St. Dionysius on the Reception of Heretics

St. Dionysius the Great died ca. 265

…[I]ndeed, (Pope Stephen of Rome) had written letters about Helanus and Firmilianus, and about all who were established throughout Cilicia and Cappadocia, and all the neighboring provinces, giving them to understand that for that same reason he would depart from their communion, because they rebaptized heretics. And consider the seriousness of the matter. For, indeed, in the most considerable councils of the bishops, as I hear, it has been decreed that they who come from heresy should first be trained in Catholic doctrine, and then should be cleansed by baptism from the filth of the old and impure leaven.Asking and  calling him to witness on all these matters, I sent letters. (Fragments: Epistle 6)

On Baptisms Outside the Church

Apostolic Canons ca. 1st cent.

Let a bishop or presbyter who shall baptize again one who has rightly received baptism, or who shall not baptize one who has been polluted by the ungodly, be deposed, as despising the cross and death of the Lord, and not making a distinction between the true priests and the false. (Canon 47)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Now he who has fallen into heresy passes through an arid wilderness, abandoning the only true God, destitute of God, seeking waterless water, reaching an uninhabited and thirsty land, collecting sterility with his hands. And those destitute of prudence, that is, those involved in heresies, I enjoin, remarks Wisdom, saying, Touch sweetly stolen bread and the sweet water of theft; (Prov. 9:17) the Scripture manifestly applying the terms bread and water to nothing else but to those heresies, which employ bread and water in the oblation, not according to the canon of the Church. For there are those who celebrate the Eucharist with mere water. But begone, stay not in her place: place is the synagogue, not the Church. He calls it by the equivocal name, place. Then He subjoins: For so shall you pass through the water of another; reckoning heretical baptism not proper and true water. And you shall pass over another’s river, that rushes along and sweeps down to the sea; into which he is cast who, having diverged from the stability which is according to truth, rushes back into the heathenish and tumultous waves of life. (Stromata 1.19)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

For if the Church is not with heretics, therefore, because it is one, and cannot be divided; and if thus the Holy Spirit is not there, because He is one, and cannot be among profane persons, and those who are without; certainly also baptism, which consists in the same unity, cannot be among heretics, because it can neither be separated from the Church nor from the Holy Spirit. (Epistle 73.4)

St. Firmilian of Caesarea died ca. 269

Moreover, all other heretics, if they have separated themselves from the Church of God, can have nothing of power or of grace, since all power and grace are established in the Church where the elders preside, who possess the power both of baptizing, and of imposition of hands, and of ordaining. For as a heretic may not lawfully ordain nor lay on hands, so neither may he baptize, nor do any thing holily or spiritually, since he is an alien from spiritual and deifying sanctity.

not all who call on the name of Christ are heard, and that their invocation cannot obtain any grace, the Lord Himself manifests, saying, Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceieve many Mk. 13:6 Because there is no difference between a false prophet and a heretic. For as the former deceives in the name of God or Christ, so the latter deceives in the sacrament of baptism. Both strive by falsehood to deceive men’s wills. (Epistles of Cyprian 74.7-9)

St. Dionysius of Alexandria died ca. 265

Previously, indeed, (Stephen) had written letters about Helanus and Firmilianus, and about all who were established throughout Cilicia and Cappadocia, and all the neighbouring provinces, giving them to understand that for that same reason he would depart from their communion, because they rebaptized heretics. And consider the seriousness of the matter. For, indeed, in the most considerable councils of the bishops, as I hear, it has been decreed that they who come from heresy should first be trained in Catholic doctrine, and then should be cleansed by baptism from the filth of the old and impure leaven. Asking and calling him to witness on all these matters, I sent letters. (Epistle 6 to Sixtus, Bishop)

For truly, brother, I have need of advice, and I crave your judgment, lest perchance I should be mistaken upon the matters which in such wise happen to me. One of the brethren who come together to the church, who for some time has been esteemed as a believer, and who before my ordination, and, if I am not deceived, before even the episcopate of Heraclas himself, had been a partaker of the assembly of the faithful, when he had been concerned in the baptism of those who were lately baptized, and had heard the interrogatories and their answers, came to me in tears, and bewailing his lot. And throwing himself at my feet, he began to confess and to protest that this baptism by which he had been initiated among heretics was not of this kind, nor had it anything whatever in common with this of ours, because that it was full of blasphemy and impiety. And he said that his soul was pierced with a very bitter sense of sorrow, and that he did not dare even to lift up his eyes to God, because he had been initiated by those wicked words and things. Wherefore he besought that, by this purest laver, he might be endowed with adoption and grace. And I, indeed, have not dared to do this; but I have said that the long course of communion had been sufficient for this. For I should not dare to renew afresh, after all, one who had heard the giving of thanks, and who had answered with others Amen; who had stood at the holy table, and had stretched forth his hands to receive the blessed food, and had received it, and for a very long time had been a partaker of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Henceforth I bade him be of good courage, and approach to the sacred elements with a firm faith and a good conscience, and become a partaker of them. But he makes no end of his wailing, and shrinks from approaching to the table; and scarcely, when entreated, can he bear to be present at the prayers. (Epistle 9 to Sixtus)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

For not he who simply says, ‘O Lord,’ gives Baptism; but he who with the Name has also the right faith. On this account therefore our Saviour also did not simply command to baptize, but first says, ‘Teach;’ then thus: ‘Baptize into the Name of Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost;’ that the right faith might follow upon learning, and together with faith might come the consecration of Baptism.

There are many other heresies too, which use the words only, but not in a right sense, as I have said, nor with sound faith, and in consequence the water which they administer is unprofitable, as deficient in piety, so that he who is sprinkled by them is rather polluted by irreligion than redeemed. (Four Discourses Against the Arians Bk. 2.18.42-43)

St. Optatus of Milevis ca. 4th cent.

Now there is another question: For what purpose have you mentioned those who have not the Sacraments which you and we alike possess? Sound health does not clamor for medicine; strength which is secure in itself does not need outside help; truth has no lack of arguments; it is the mark of a sick man to seek remedies; it is the sign of a sluggard and a weakling to run in search of auxiliaries; it belongs to a liar to rake up arguments. To return to your book, you have said that the Endowments of the Church cannot be with heretics, and in this you have said rightly, for we know that the churches of each of the heretics have no lawful Sacraments, since they are adulteresses, without the rights of honest wedlock, and are rejected by Christ, who is the Bridegroom of One Church, as strangers.  This He Himself makes clear in the Canticle of Canticles. When He praises One, He condemns the others because, besides the One which is the true Catholic Church, the others amongst the heretics are thought to be churches, but are not such. Thus He declares in the Canticle of Canticles (as we have already pointed out) that His Dove is One, and that she is also the chosen Spouse, and again a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed up.

Therefore none of the heretics possess either the Keys, which Peter alone received, or the Ring,  with which we read that the Fountain has been sealed; nor is any heretic one of those to whom that Garden belongs in which God plants His young trees. (Against the Donatists Bk. 1.10)

You see, then, my brother Parmenian, that none but heretics only—-who are cut off from the home of truth—-possess ‘various kinds of false Baptisms with which he, who is stained, cannot wash, nor the unclean cleanse, nor the destroyer raise, nor he, who is lost, free, nor the guilty man give pardon, nor the condemned man absolve.’ (ibid. Bk. 1.12)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

We may not receive Baptism twice or thrice; else it might be said, Though I have failed once, I shall set it right a second time: whereas if you fail once, the thing cannot be set right; for there is one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism : for only the heretics are re-baptized , because the former was no baptism. (Procatechesis 7)

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379

The old authorities decided to accept that baptism which in nowise errs from the faith. Thus they used the names of heresies, of schisms, and of unlawful congregations. By heresies they meant men who were altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith; by schisms men who had separated for some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual solution; by unlawful congregations gatherings held by disorderly presbyters or bishops or by uninstructed laymen.  As, for instance, if a man be convicted of crime, and prohibited from discharging ministerial functions, and then refuses to submit to the canons, but arrogates to himself episcopal and ministerial rights, and persons leave the Catholic Church and join him, this is unlawful assembly. To disagree with members of the Church about repentance, is schism. Instances of heresy are those of the Manichæans, of the Valentinians, of the Marcionites, and of these Pepuzenes; for with them there comes in at once their disagreement concerning the actual faith in God. So it seemed good to the ancient authorities to reject the baptism of heretics altogether, but to admit that of schismatics, on the ground that they still belonged to the Church.

…For those who have not been baptized into the names delivered to us have not been baptized at all.

…[I]t seemed good to the ancient authorities, I mean Cyprian and our own Firmilianus, to reject all these, Cathari, Encratites, and Hydroparastatæ;, by one common condemnation, because the origin of separation arose through schism, and those who had apostatized from the Church had no longer on them the grace of the Holy Spirit, for it ceased to be imparted when the continuity was broken. The first separatists had received their ordination from the Fathers, and possessed the spiritual gift by the laying on of their hands. But they who were broken off had become laymen, and, because they are no longer able to confer on others that grace of the Holy Spirit from which they themselves are fallen away, they had no authority either to baptize or to ordain. And therefore those who were from time to time baptized by them, were ordered, as though baptized by laymen, to come to the church to be purified by the Church’s true baptism. (Epistle 188: 1st Canonical Epistle, Canon 1)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

…now all are made whole; or more exactly, the Christian people alone, for in some even the water is deceitful. Jer. 15:18 The baptism of unbelievers heals not but pollutes. (On the Mysteries 4.23)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

Cyprian of blessed memory tried to avoid broken cisterns and not to drink of strange waters: and therefore, rejecting heretical baptism, he summoned his African synod in opposition to Stephen, who was the blessed Peter’s twenty-second successor in the see of Rome. They met to discuss this matter; but the attempt failed. At last those very bishops who had together with him determined that heretics must be re-baptized, reverted to the old custom and published a fresh decree. Do you ask what course we must pursue? What we do our forefathers handed down to us as their forefathers to them. But why speak of later times? When the blood of Christ was but lately shed and the apostles were still in Judæa, the Lord’s body was asserted to be a phantom; the Galatians had been led away to the observance of the law, and the Apostle was a second time in travail with them; the Corinthians did not believe the resurrection of the flesh, and he endeavoured by many arguments to bring them back to the right path. Then came Simon Magus and his disciple Menander. They asserted themselves to be powers of God. Then Basilides invented the most high god Abraxas and the three hundred and sixty-five manifestations of him. Then Nicolas, one of the seven Deacons, and one whose lechery knew no rest by night or day, indulged in his filthy dreams. I say nothing of the Jewish heretics who before the coming of Christ destroyed the law delivered to them: of Dositheus, the leader of the Samaritans who rejected the prophets: of the Sadducees who sprang from his root and denied even the resurrection of the flesh: of the Pharisees who separated themselves from the Jews on account of certain superfluous observances, and took their name from the fact of their dissent: of the Herodians who accepted Herod as the Christ. I come to those heretics who have mangled the Gospels, Saturninus, and the Ophites, the Cainites and Sethites, and Carpocrates, and Cerinthus, and his successor Ebion, and the other pests, the most of which broke out while the apostle John was still alive, and yet we do not read that any of these men were re-baptized.

As we have made mention of that distinguished saint, let us show also from his Apocalypse that repentance unaccompanied by baptism ought to be allowed valid in the case of heretics. It is imputed Rev. 2:4 to the angel of Ephesus that he has forsaken his first love. In the angel of the Church of Pergamum the eating of idol-sacrifices is censured Rev. 2:14, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans Rev. 2:15. Likewise the angel of Thyatira is rebuked Rev. 2:20 on account of Jezebel the prophetess, and the idol meats, and fornication. And yet the Lord encourages all these to repent, and adds a threat, moreover, of future punishment if they do not turn. Now he would not urge them to repent unless he intended to grant pardon to the penitents. Is there any indication of his having said, Let them be re-baptized who have been baptized in the faith of the Nicolaitans? Or let hands be laid upon those of the people of Pergamum who at that time believed, having held the doctrine of Balaam? Nay, rather, Repent therefore, Rev. 2:16 he says, or else I come to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.

If, however, those men who were ordained by Hilary, and who have lately become sheep without a shepherd, are disposed to allege Scripture in support of what the blessed Cyprian left in his letters advocating the re-baptization of heretics, I beg them to remember that he did not anathematize those who refused to follow him. At all events, he remained in communion with such as opposed his views. He was content with exhorting them, on account of Novatus and the numerous other heretics then springing up, to receive no one who did not condemn his previous error. In fact, he thus concludes the discussion of the subject with Stephen, the Roman Pontiff: These things, dearest brother, I have brought to your knowledge on account of our mutual respect and love unfeigned, believing, as I do, that from the sincerity of your piety and your faith you will approve such things as are alike consonant with piety and true in themselves. But I know that some persons are unwilling to abandon views which they have once entertained, and are averse to a change of purpose; they would rather, without breaking the bond of peace and concord between colleagues, adhere to their own plans, when once they have been adopted. This is a matter in which we do not force anyone, or lay down a law for anyone; let each follow his own free choice in the administration of the Church: let each be ruler in his own sphere since he must give account of his action to the Lord. In the letter also to Jubaianus on the re-baptization of heretics, towards the end, he says this: I have written these few remarks, my dearest brother, to the best of my poor ability, without dictating to anyone, or prejudicing the case of anyone: I would not hinder a single bishop from doing what he thinks right with the full exercise of his own judgment. So far as is possible, we avoid disputes with colleagues and fellow bishops about the heretics, and maintain with them a divine harmony and the Lord’s peace, particularly since the Apostle says: 1 Cor. 11:16 ‘But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.’ With patience and gentleness we preserve charity at heart, the honour of our order, the bond of faith, the harmony of the episcopate.

There is another argument which I shall adduce, and against that not even Hilary, the modern Deucalion, will venture to mutter a syllable. If heretics are not baptized and must be re-baptized because they were not in the Church, Hilary himself also is not a Christian. For he was baptized in that Church which always allowed heretical baptism. Before the Synod of Ariminum was held, before Lucifer went into exile, Hilary when a deacon of the Roman Church welcomed those who came over from the heretics on account of the baptism which they had previously received. It can hardly be that Arians are the only heretics, and that we are to accept all but those whom they have baptized. You were a deacon, Hilary (the Church may say), and received those whom the Manichæans had baptized. You were a deacon, and acknowledged Ebion’s baptism. All at once after Arius arose you began to be quite out of conceit with yourself. You and your household separated from us, and opened a new laver of your own. If some angel or apostle has re-baptized you, I will not disparage your procedure. But since you who raise your sword against me are the son of my womb, and nourished on the milk of my breasts, return to me what I gave you, and be, if you can, a Christian in some other way. Suppose I am a harlot, still I am your mother. You say, I do not keep the marriage bed undefiled: still what I am now I was when you were conceived. If I commit adultery with Arius, I did the same before with Praxias, with Ebion, with Cerinthus, and Novatus. You think much of them and welcome them, adulterers as they are, to your mother’s home. I don’t know why one adulterer more than others should offend you.

But if anyone thinks it open to question whether heretics were always welcomed by our ancestors, let him read the letters of the blessed Cyprian in which he applies the lash to Stephen, bishop of Rome, and his errors which had grown inveterate by usage. Let him also read the pamphlets of Hilary on the re-baptization of heretics which he published against us, and he will there find Hilary himself confessing that Julius, Marcus, Sylvester, and the other bishops of old alike welcomed all heretics to repentance; and, further, to show that he could not justly claim possession of the true custom; the Council of Nicæa also, to which we referred not long ago, welcomed all heretics with the exception of the disciples of Paul of Samosata. And, what is more, it allows a Novatian bishop on conversion to have the rank of presbyter, a decision which condemns both Lucifer and Hilary, since the same person who is ordained is also baptized. (Dialogue Against the Luciferians 23-27) 

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

…so let them understand that men may be baptized in communions severed from the Church, in which Christ’s baptism is given and received in the said celebration of the sacrament, but that it will only then be of avail for the remission of sins, when the recipient, being reconciled to the unity of the Church, is purged from the sacrilege of deceit, by which his sins were retained, and their remission prevented. For, as in the case of him who had approached the sacrament in deceit there is no second baptism, but he is purged by faithful discipline and truthful confession, which he could not be without baptism, so that what was given before becomes then powerful to work his salvation, when the former deceit is done away by the truthful confession; so also in the case of the man who, while an enemy to the peace and love of Christ, received in any heresy or schism the baptism of Christ, which the schismatics in question had not lost from among them, though by his sacrilege his sins were not remitted, yet, when he corrects his error, and comes over to the communion and unity of the Church, he ought not to be again baptized: because by his very reconciliation to the peace of the Church he receives this benefit, that the sacrament now begins in unity to be of avail for the remission of his sins, which could not so avail him as received in schism.

But if they should say that in the man who has approached the sacrament in deceit, his sins are indeed removed by the holy power of so great a sacrament at the moment when he received it, but return immediately in consequence of his deceit: so that the Holy Spirit has both been present with him at his baptism for the removal of his sins, and has also fled before his perseverance in deceit so that they should return: so that both declarations prove true—both, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ;” and also, “The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit;”— that is to say, that both the holiness of baptism clothes him with Christ, and the sinfulness of deceit strips him of Christ; like the case of a man who passes from darkness through light into darkness again, his eyes being always directed towards darkness, though the light cannot but penetrate them as he passes—if they should say this, let them understand that this is also the case with those who are baptized without the pale of the Church, but yet with the baptism of the Church, which is holy in itself, wherever it may be; and which therefore belongs not to those who separate themselves, but to the body from which they are separated; while yet it avails even among them so far, that they pass through its light back to their own darkness, their sins, which in that moment had been dispelled by the holiness of baptism, returning immediately upon them, as though it were the darkness returning which the light had dispelled while they were passing through it. (On Baptism Bk. 1 Chap. 12.18-19)

It is to no purpose, then, that they say to us, “If you acknowledge our baptism, what do we lack that should make you suppose that we ought to think seriously of joining your communion?” For we reply, We do not acknowledge any baptism of yours; for it is not the baptism of schismatics or heretics, but of God and of the Church, wheresoever it may be found, and wherever it may be transferred. But it is in no sense yours, except because you entertain false opinions, and do sacrilegious acts, and have impiously separated yourselves from the Church. For if everything else in your practice and opinions were true, and still you were to persist in this same separation, contrary to the bond of brotherly peace, contrary to the union of all the brethren, who have been manifest, according to the promise, in all the world; the particulars of whose history, and the secrets of whose hearts, you never could have known or considered in every case, so as to have a right to condemn them; who, moreover, cannot be liable to condemnation for submitting themselves to the judges of the Church rather than to one of the parties to the dispute—in this one thing, at least, in such a case, you are deficient, in which he is deficient who lacks charity. Why should we go over our argument again? Look and see yourselves in the apostle, how much there is that you lack. For what does it matter to him who lacks charity, whether he be carried away outside the Church at once by some blast of temptation, or remain within the Lord’s harvest, so as to be separated only at the final winnowing? And yet even such, if they have once been born in baptism, need not be born again. (On Baptism Bk. 1 Chap. 14.22)

St. Vincent of Lerins died ca. 445

Once on a time then, Agripinnus, bishop of Carthage, of venerable memory, held the doctrine— and he was the first who held it— that Baptism ought to be repeated, contrary to the divine canon, contrary to the rule of the universal Church, contrary to the customs and institutions of our ancestors. This innovation drew after it such an amount of evil, that it not only gave an example of sacrilege to heretics of all sorts, but proved an occasion of error to certain Catholics even.

When then all men protested against the novelty, and the priesthood everywhere, each as his zeal prompted him, opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith. In fine, in an epistle sent at the time to Africa, he laid down this rule: Let there be no innovation— nothing but what has been handed down. For that holy and prudent man well knew that true piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers the same are to be faithfully consigned to our children; and that it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us. What then was the issue of the whole matter? What but the usual and customary one? Antiquity was retained, novelty was rejected.

But it may be, the cause of innovation at that time lacked patronage. On the contrary, it had in its favor such powerful talent, such copious eloquence, such a number of partisans, so much resemblance to truth, such weighty support in Scripture (only interpreted in a novel and perverse sense), that it seems to me that that whole conspiracy could not possibly have been defeated, unless the sole cause of this extraordinary stir, the very novelty of what was so undertaken, so defended, so belauded, had proved wanting to it. In the end, what result, under God, had that same African Council or decree? None whatever. The whole affair, as though a dream, a fable, a thing of no possible account, was annulled, cancelled, and trodden underfoot.

And O marvellous revolution! The authors of this same doctrine are judged Catholics, the followers heretics; the teachers are absolved, the disciples condemned; the writers of the books will be children of the Kingdom, the defenders of them will have their portion in Hell. For who is so demented as to doubt that that blessed light among all holy bishops and martyrs, Cyprian, together with the rest of his colleagues, will reign with Christ; or, who on the other hand so sacrilegious as to deny that the Donatists and those other pests, who boast the authority of that council for their iteration of baptism, will be consigned to eternal fire with the devil? (The Commonitory 6.16-18)

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

For they who have received baptism from heretics, not having been previously baptized, are to be confirmed by imposition of hands with only the invocation of the Holy Ghost, because they have received the bare form of baptism without the power of sanctification. And this regulation, as you know, we require to be kept in all the churches, that the font once entered may not be defiled by repetition, as the Lord says, One Lord, one faith, one baptism. And that washing may not be polluted by repetition, but, as we have said, only the sanctification of the Holy Ghost invoked, that what no one can receive from heretics may be obtained from Catholic priests. (Letter 159.8)

Concerning those who have come from Africa or Mauretania and know not in what sect they were baptized, what ought to be done in their case ?

Reply. These persons are not doubtful of their baptism, but profess ignorance as to the faith of those who baptized them: and hence since they have received the form of baptism in some way or other, they are not to be baptized but are to be united to the Catholics by imposition of hands, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit’s power, which they could not receive from heretics. (Letter 167: Question 18)

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe 467-533

Anyone who receives the sacrament of baptism, whether in the Catholic Church or in a heretical or schismatic one, receives the whole sacrament; but salvation, which is the strength of the sacrament, he will not have, if he has had the sacrament outside the Catholic Church [and remains in deliberate schism]. He must therefore return to the Church, not so that he might receive again the sacrament of baptism, which no one dare repeat in any baptized person, but so that he may receive eternal life in Catholic society, for the obtaining of which no one is suited who, even with the sacrament of baptism, remains estranged from the Catholic Church. (The Rule of Faith 43)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

And indeed we have learned from the ancient institution of the Fathers that whosoever among heretics are baptized in the name of the Trinity, when they return to holy Church, may be recalled to the bosom of mother Church either by unction of chrism, or by imposition of hands, or by profession of the faith only. Hence the West reconciles Arians to the holy Catholic Church by imposition of hands, but the Eastby the unction of holy chrism. But Monophysites and others are received by a true confession only, because holy baptism, which they have received among heretics, then acquires in them the power of cleansing, when either the former receive the Holy Spirit by imposition of hands, or the latter are united to the bowels of the holy and universal Church byreason of their confession of the true faith. Those heretics, however, who are not baptized in the name of the Trinity, such as the Bonosiaci and theCataphrygæ, because the former do not believe inChrist the Lord, and the latter with a perverse understanding believe a certain bad man, Montanus, to be the Holy Spirit, like whom are many others—these, when they come to holy Church, are baptized, because what they received while in their error, not being in the name of the Holy Trinity, was not baptism. Nor can this be called an iteration of baptism, which, as has been said, had not been given in the name of the Trinity. But the Nestorians, since they are baptized in the name of the HolyTrinity— though darkened by the error of their heresy in that, after the manner of Jewish unbelief, they believe not the Incarnation of the Only-begotten— when they come to the Holy Catholic Church, are to be taught, by firm holding and profession of the true faith, to believe in one and the same Son of God and man, our Lord God Jesus Christ, the same existing in Divinity before the ages, and the same made man in the end of the ages, because The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us Jn. 1:14(Epistles, Bk. 11: Epistle 67)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

For where is a good conscience except where there is a sincere faith? For the Apostle Paul teaches that the purpose of the commandment is charity from a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith. (1 Tim. 1:5) The fact, therefore, that the water of the flood did not save thouse 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. (Commentary on 1st Peter)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

We confess one baptism for the remission of sins and for life eternal. For baptism declares the Lord’s death. We are indeed buried with the Lord through baptism Col. 2:12, as says the divine Apostle. So then, as our Lord died once for all, we also must be baptized once for all, and baptized according to the Word of the Lord, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit Mat. 28:19, being taught the confession in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those , then, who, after having been baptized into Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and having been taught that there is one divine nature in three subsistences, are rebaptized, these, as the divine Apostle says, crucify the Christ afresh. For it is impossible, he says, for those who were once enlightened, etc., to renew them again unto repentance: seeing they crucify to themselves the Christ afresh, and put Him to an open shame. Heb. 6:4 But those who were not baptized into the Holy Trinity, these must be baptized again. For although the divine Apostle says: Into Christ and into His death were we baptized Rom. 6:3, he does not mean that the invocation of baptism must be in these words, but that baptism is an image of the death of Christ. For by the three immersions , baptism signifies the three days of our Lord’s entombment. The baptism then into Christ means that believers are baptized into Him. We could not believe in Christ if we were not taught confession in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For Christ is the Son of the Living God Mat. 16:16, Whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit Acts 10:38: in the words of the divine David, Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows. And Isaiah also speaking in the person of the Lord says,  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me. Isa. 61:1 Christ, however, taught His own disciples the invocation and said, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Mat. 28:19 (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. 4.9)

On the Incomprehensible World

St. Dionysius of Alexandria died ca. 265

For no one is able to comprehend the works of God altogether. Moreover, the world is the work of God. No one, then, can find out as to this world what is its space from the beginning and unto the end, that is to say, the period appointed for it, and the limits before determined unto it; forasmuch as God has set the whole world as a realm of ignorance in our hearts. And thus one says: Declare to me the shortness of my days. In this manner, and for our profit, the end of this world (age) — that is to say, this present life — is a thing of which we are ignorant. (A Commentary on the Beginning of Ecclesiastes: Chap. 3.11)


St. Dionysius on Apostolic Tradition

St. Dionysius the Great died ca. 265

If then it was from the Apostles, as we said above, that this custom took its beginning, we must adjust ourselves thereto, whatsoever may have been their reasons and the grounds on which they acted; to the end that we too may observe the same in accordance with their practice. For as to things which were written afterwards and which are until now still found, they are ignored by us ; and let them be ignored, no matter what they are. How can these comply with the customs of the ancients ? And in a word I have deemed certain disquisitions about these matters superfluous ; and I feel that to pay attention to them is noisy and vain. For as we are told after a first and second admonition to avoid them, so must we admonish and converse about them, and after brief inculcation and talk in common we must desist. On points, however, of prime importance and great weight we must insist. For if anyone utters any impiety about God, as do those who say He is without mercy; or if anyone introduces the worship of strange gods, such an one the law has commanded to stone. But we with the vigorous words of our faith will stone them unless they approach the mystery of Christ; or [if] anyone alter or destroy [it], or [say] that He was either not God or not man, or that He did not die or rise again, or that He is not coming again to judge the quick and the dead ; or if he preach any other gospel than we have preached, let him be accursed, says Paul. But if anyone despises the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, let such an one be at once ranked with the dead. For these reasons, that we may be in accord, church with church and bishop with bishop and elder with elder, let us be careful in our utterances. Moreover in judging of and dealing with particular cases,—as to how it is proper to admit those who come to us from without, and how to supervise those who are within,—we give instructions to the local primates who under divine imposition of hands were appointed to discharge these duties ; for they shall give a summary account to the Lord of whatsoever they do. (Blessed Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria to Pope Stephen of Rome)

On Holy Chrism

In the Orthodox Church, the Holy Chrism is sanctified for use in the celebration of the sacrament of Chrismation. It is a visible sign of the transmission of gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who are baptized.

During the early years of Christianity, the transmission of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the baptized were given by the Apostles through the “laying of hands.” It is stated in the Scriptures that, “Now when the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14‑17, R.S.V.)

When the Church spread throughout the world and the number of the baptized was greatly increased, it was not possible to continue the practice of Samaria. Consequently, the Apostles introduced the use of the sanctified Chrism. The Holy Chrism was sanctified by the Apostles and was continued thereafter by the bishops through the Apostolic Succession. The “laying on of hands” was completely replaced by the Holy Chrism to transmit gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The use of the Holy Chrism was introduced to the Christian Church from the existing Old Testament practice. It is stated that, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the finest spices ‑‑ 12 pounds of liquid myrrh, 6 pounds of sweet‑smelling cinnamon, 6 pounds of sweet cane, and 12 pounds of cassia (all weighted according to official standard). Add one gallon of olive oil, and make a sacred anointing oil, mixed like perfume.”’ (Exodus 30:22‑25) (Excerpted from “The Sanctification of the Holy Chrism” by Pavlos Menesoglou)

Deut. 34:9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
1Sam. 16:12-13 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward…
Acts 8:14-19 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord-Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here-has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 19:1-6 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Theophilus of Antioch fl. ca. 170

And about your laughing at me and calling me “Christian,” you know not what you are saying. First, because that which is anointed is sweet and serviceable, and far from contemptible. For what ship can be serviceable and seaworthy, unless it be first caulked [anointed]? Or what castle or house is beautiful and serviceable when it has not been anointed? And what man, when he enters into this life or into the gymnasium, is not anointed with oil? And what work has either ornament or beauty unless it be anointed and burnished? Then the air and all that is under heaven is in a certain sort anointed by light and spirit; and are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? Wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God. (To Autolycus 1.12)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

After this, when we have issued from the font, we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction,–a practice derived from the old discipline, wherein on entering the priesthood, then were wont to be anointed with oil from a horn, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses. Whence Aaron is called “Christ,’ from the ‘chrism, ‘which is ‘the unction;’ which, when made spiritual, furnished an appropriate name to the Lord, because He was ‘anointed’ with the Spirit by God the Father; as written in the Acts: ‘For truly they were gathered together in this city against Thy Holy Son whom Thou hast anointed.’ Thus, too, in our case, the unction runs cornally, (on the body,) but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from sins. (On Baptism 7)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

‘And she said to her maids, Bring me oil.’ For faith and love prepare oil and unguents to those who are washed. But what were these unguents, but the commandments of the holy Word? And what was the oil, but the power of the Holy Spirit, with which believers are anointed as with ointment after the layer of washing? All these things were figuratively represented in the blessed Susannah, for our sakes, that we who now believe on God might not regard the things that are done now in the Church as strange, but believe them all to have been set forth in figure by the patriarchs of old, as the apostle also says: ‘Now these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the world are come.’ (Commentary on Daniel)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

It is also necessary that he should be anointed who is baptized; so that, having received the chrism, that is, the anointing, he may be anointed of God, and have in him the grace of Christ. Further, it is the Eucharist whence the baptized are anointed with the oil sanctified on the altar. But he cannot sanctify the creature of oil, who has neither an altar nor a church; whence also there can be no spiritual anointing among heretics, since it is manifest that the oil cannot be sanctified nor the Eucharist celebrated at all among them. But we ought to know and remember that it is written, ‘Let not the oil of a sinner anoint my head,’ which the Holy Spirit before forewarned in the Psalms, lest any one going out of the way and wandering from the path of truth should be anointed by heretics and adversaries of Christ. (To Januarius, Epistle 70/69:2)

Council of Carthage VII ca. 256

[I]n the Gospel our Lord Jesus Christ spoke with his divine voice, saying, ‘Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ [John 3:5]. This is the Spirit which from the beginning was borne over the waters; for neither can the Spirit operate without the water, nor the water without the Spirit. Certain people therefore interpret [this passage] for themselves wrongly, when they say that by imposition of the hand they receive the Holy Ghost, and are thus received, when it is manifest that they ought to be born again [initiated] in the Catholic Church by both sacraments. (Seventh Council of Carthage)

St. Aphrahat the Persian ca. 270-345

But a gate has been opened for seeking peace, whereby the mist has lifted from the reason of the multitude; and light has dawned in the mind; and from the glistening olive, fruits are put forth, in which there is a sign of the sacrament of life, by which Christians are perfected, as well as priests and kings and prophets. It illuminates the darkness, anoints the sick, and leads back penitents in its secret sacrament.  (Treatises, 23:3)

Council of Laodicea ca. 364

They who are baptized must after Baptism be anointed with the heavenly chrism, and be partakers of the Kingdom of Christ. (Canon 48)

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

That oil is a friend

of the Holy Spirit, and His servant.

Like a disciple, it accompanies Him,

that with which the priests and the anointed are sealed.

By means of the oil, the Holy Spirit impresses

His seal upon the sheep;

Like a signet pressed in wax,

He impresses His seal.

So also the invisible eal of the Spirit

is impressed on our bodies with the oil

With which we are anointed in Baptism,

whereby we bear His seal.

(Hymns on Virginity 7.6)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

…[B]eware of supposing this to be plain ointment. For as the Bread of the Eucharist. after the invocation of the Holy Ghost, is mere bread no longer, but the Body of Christ, so also this holy ointment is no more simple ointment, nor so to say common, after invocation, but it is Christ’s gift of grace, and, by the advent of the Holy Ghost, is made fit to impart His Divine Nature. Which ointment is symbolically applied to thy forehead and thy other senses; and while thy body is anointed with the visible ointment, thy soul is sanctified by the Holy and life-giving Spirit. (Catechetical Lectures 21.3)

St. Serapion of Thmuis fl. ca. 330 to 360

You may effect in this chrism a divine and heavenly operation, so that those baptized and anointed in tracing with it of the sign of the saving cross of the Only-begotten, through which cross Satan and every adverse power is turned aside and conquered, as if reborn and renewed through the bath of regeneration, may be made participants in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by this seal, may remain firm and immovable, unharmed and inviolate. (Prayer over the Chrism)

St. Basil of Caesarea ca. 330-379

Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? (On the Holy Spirit 27.66)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

But if you would fortify yourself beforehand with the Seal, and secure yourself for the future with the best and strongest of all aids, being signed both in body and in soul with the unction, as Israel was of old with that blood and unction of the firstborn at night that guarded him, Exo. 12:22 what then can happen to you, and what has been wrought out for you? Listen to the Proverbs. If you sit, he says, you shall be without fear; and if you sleep, your sleep shall be sweet. Prov. 3:24 And listen to David giving you the good news, You shall not be afraid for the terror by night, for mischance or noonday demon. This, even while you live, will greatly contribute to your sense of safety (for a sheep that is sealed is not easily snared, but that which is unmarked is an easy prey to thieves), and at your death a fortunate shroud, more precious than gold, more magnificent than a sepulchre, more reverent than fruitless libations, more seasonable than ripe firstfruits, which the dead bestow on the dead, making a law out of custom. Nay, if all things forsake you, Lk. 9:60 or be taken violently away from you; money, possessions, thrones, distinctions, and everything that belongs to this early turmoil, yet you will be able to lay down your life in safety, having suffered no loss of the helps which God gave you unto salvation. (Oration 40 On Holy Baptism 15)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 339-397

After this, you went up to the priest, consider what followed. Was it not that of which David speaks: Like the ointment upon the head, which went down to the beard, even Aaron’s beard? This is the ointment of which Solomon, too, says: Your Name is ointment poured out, therefore have the maidens loved You and drawn You. Songs 1:2 How many souls regenerated this day have loved You, Lord Jesus, and have said: Draw us after You, we are running after the odour of Your garments, Songs 1:3 that they might drink in the odour of Your resurrection.

Consider now why this is done, for the eyes of a wise man are in his head; Eccl. 2:14 therefore the ointment flows down to the beard, that is to say, to the beauty of youth; and therefore, Aaron’s beard, that we, too, may become a chosen race, priestly and precious, for we are all anointed with spiritual grace for a share in the kingdom of God and in the priesthood. (On the Mysteries 6.29-30)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

Don’t you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the layer, and then, after leaving the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked. (Against the Luciferians 8)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

Why, therefore, is the Head itself, whence that ointment of unity descended, that is, the spiritual fragrance of brotherly love,–why, I say, is the Head itself exposed to your resistance, while it testifies and declares that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”? And by this ointment you wish the sacrament of chrism to be understood, which is indeed holy as among the class of visible signs, like baptism itself… (Letters of Petilian the Donatist, Bk. 2,104:239)

Apostolic Constitutions compiled ca. 375

But thou shalt beforehand anoint the person with the holy oil, and afterward baptize him with the water, and in the conclusion shall seal him with the ointment; that the anointing with oil may be the participation of the Holy Spirit, and the water the symbol of the death of Christ, and the ointment the seal of the covenants. But if there be neither oil nor ointment, water is sufficient both for the anointing, and for the seal, and for the confession of Him that is dead, or indeed is dying together with Christ. (Apostolic Constitutions, 7,2:22)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

The living water of holy Baptism is given to us as if in rain, and the Bread of Life as if in wheat, and the Blood as if in wine. In Addition to this there is also the use of oil, reckoned as perfecting those who have been justified in Christ through holy baptism.(Commentary on the Minor Prophets, 32)

St. Patrick of Ireland ca. 387-493

The day after the newly baptized, anointed with chrism, in white garments (had been slain) – the fragrance was still on their foreheads when they were butchered and slaughtered with the sword by the above-mentioned people – I sent a letter with a holy presbyter whom I had taught from his childhood, clerics accompanying him, asking them to let us have some of the booty, and of the baptized they had made captives. They only jeered at them. (Letter to Coroticus)

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

Today’s festival, dearly-beloved, hallowed by the descent of the Holy Ghost, is followed, as you know by a solemn fast, which being a salutary institution for the healing of soul and body, we must keep with devout observance. For when the Apostles had been filled with the promised power, and the Spirit of Truth had entered their hearts, we doubt not that among the other mysteries of heavenly doctrine this discipline of spiritual self-restraint was first thought of at the prompting of the Paraclete in order that minds sanctified by fasting might be fitter for the chrism to be bestowed on them. The disciples of Christ had the protection of the Almighty aid, and the chiefs of the infant Church were guarded by the whole Godhead of the Father and the Son through the presence of the Holy Ghost. (Sermon 78)

St. Dionysius the Areopagite ca. 5th cent.

…[T]he priests guide the man to the water and there he is handed over to the hierarch who, standing on a more elevated spot, immerses three times the initiate whose name is called out across the water by the priests to the hierarch with each immersion. Each time the initiate is plunged into the water and emerges, the hierarch invokes the three Persons of the divine blessedness. The priests then bring the man back to his sponsor, to the one who had brought him for introduction, and together with him they reclothe the man and bring him back once more to the hierarch. Using the most potently divine ointment he makes the sign of the cross on him and proclaims him ready to participate in the sacredly initiating Eucharist. (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy Chap. 2)

Pope St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

It has also come to our ears that some have been offended by our having forbidden presbyters to touch with chrism those who are to be baptized. And we indeed acted according to the ancient use of our Church: but, if any are in fact hereby distressed, we allow that, where there is a lack of bishops, presbyters may touch with chrism, even on their foreheads, those who are to be baptized. (Letters Bk. 4.26)

Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735

The spiritual anointing is the Holy Spirit Himself, whose sacrament is the visible anointing. He says that all who have this anointing of Christ perceive good and evil and do not need to be taught, because the anointing it self teaches them.(Commentary on 1st John)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

Olive oil is employed in baptism as a significant of our anointing, and as making us anointed, and as announcing to us through the Holy Spirit God’s pity: for it was the fruit of the olive that the dove brought to those who were saved from the flood. (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. 4.9)

Council of Trullo ca. 692

Those who from the heretics come over to orthodoxy, and to the number of those who should be saved, we receive according to the following order and custom. Arians, Macedonians, Novatians, who call themselves Cathari, Aristeri, and Testareskaidecatitæ, or Tetraditæ, and Apollinarians, we receive on their presentation of certificates and on their anathematizing every heresy which does not hold as does the holy Apostolic Church of God: then first of all we anoint them with the holy chrism on their foreheads, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears; and as we seal them we say— The seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Canon 95)