Saturday, September 13, 2014

Baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers: Tertullian


In this ongoing series on baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers (using Mr. Kauffman's attempted rebuttals of Dr. Cross as an introduction of sorts), I am jumping from Justin Martyr to Tertullian (I will examine a few of the CFs between these two in upcoming posts), for the following reason: of all the early CFs who explore the issue of baptism in any depth, Tertullian is the only one who, on the surface, appears to create some difficulties for those who maintain that baptismal regeneration was a consensus teaching among the early Church Fathers.

Mr. Kauffman begins his rebuttal of Dr. Cross's assessment of Tertullian (link), with the following:

The citations that Called to Communion uses from Tertullian’s On Baptism here are too numerous to include, though we encourage our readers to examine them all. Better yet, to read Tertullian’s entire treatise, On Baptism. We have included only one citation, above, so our readers can at least get a taste of Tertullian’s writing, and Called to Communion‘s evidence from him.

On Baptism was written in response to the “viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, [which] has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism” (Tertullian, On Baptism, chapter 1). Tertullian spends 20 chapters defending the merits of baptism, its divine origin, the significance of the water, the power to sanctify, remit sins, grant life and secure eternal salvation. Here Called to Communion seems to have read Tertullian for what he plainly says as he implores Christians, with soaring rhetoric and impassioned reasoning, not to dispense with a command of Christ by stumbling into the Cainite heresy.

So far, so good. Mr. Kauffman has done a pretty good job of summarizing the content of Tertullian's treatise, De Baptismo (though he did leave out two important aspects of "the merits of baptism" included by Tertullian: rebirth, and the necessity of baptism for salvation).

[NOTE: For online texts and resources concerning Tertullian, I highly recommend THIS WEBSITE.]

He then writes:

But Tertullian says more than this, and we find that he knew very well that the power of regeneration emanates from the Cross, and that baptism, the baptism of the Cross, “stands in lieu of the fontal bathing”:

“These two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side, in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood. This is the baptism which both stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received, and restores it when lost.” (Tertullian, On Baptism, Chapter 16)

Even here in On Baptism, Tertullian is tipping his hand, and showing that his own soaring rhetoric is hyperbolic, and he hints at his conviction (which he elsewhere states explicitly) that the water of the baptismal font is merely a signification of the actual baptism that takes place in the heart.

Rather than, "tipping his hand, and showing that his own soaring rhetoric is hyperbolic", Tertullian is here mentioning (without an in depth analysis) the Catholic concept of 'baptism of blood'; note the following:

Baptism of blood is the martyrdom of an unbaptized person that, because of the patient acceptance of a violent death or an attack leading to death, constitutes the confessing of the Christian faith or the practice of Christian virtue. Christ himself contended that martyrdom, like perfect love, contains justifying power (e.g. Mt 10:32, 10:39; Jn 12:25). Fathers of the Church, namely Tertullian and St. Cyprian, regarded martyrdom as a legitimate substitute for sacramental baptism. (Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, 1997, p. 47.)

Mr. Kauffman sure seems to be either ignorant of the fact that Catholic dogma does not limit the means of salvation to sacramental baptism only, or he is purposefully being deceptive here. In fact, all of his arguments against Tertullian affirming baptismal regeneration proceed under the assumption that Catholicism teaches sacramental baptism is the only means by which one can be saved. Mr. Kauffman's remaining arguments are quite easily deflected if one keeps in mind that 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire' are viable options for salvation within Catholic thought.

So, the question that needs to asked is not whether Tertullian believed that salvation can take place apart from sacramental baptism, but rather, whether or not Tertullian's teaching on sacramental baptism is best described as baptismal regeneration. An objective reading of Tertullian's take sacramental baptism clearly reveals that his view falls under the rubric of baptismal regeneration. Since even Mr. Kauffman himself affirms that Tertullian in his De Baptismo, "spends 20 chapters defending the merits of baptism, its divine origin, the significance of the water, the power to sanctify, remit sins, grant life and secure eternal salvation", to which one should add rebirth and the necessity of baptism for salvation, the affirmation that Tertullian taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is the only accurate conclusion that one can maintain.

The patristic scholar, Dr. Everett Ferguson, confirms this conclusion; note the following:

Tertullian summarizes the doctrine of baptism in listing the items that he found inexplicable if one accepted Marcion's teachings: remission of sins, deliverance from death, regeneration (regeneratio), and bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Against Marcion 1.28.2-3)...

Tertullian most often expresses the significance of baptism in terms of forgiveness or cleansing from sins...

Tertullian further associated baptism with regeneration and new birth...

These benefits attributed to baptism underscores its necessity. Tertullian declares that "it is prescribed that without baptism no person can obtain salvation" (Baptism 12.1.) This standing rule derives from the Lord's pronouncement in John 3:5, "Except one be borm of water he cannot have life." Shortly thereafter Tertullian quotes both Matthew 28:19 and John 3:5 (this time more fully and more accurately) in support of the necessity of baptism. (Baptism in the Early Church, 2009, pp. 346, 347, 349.)

Contra Mr. Kauffman's view that Tertullian did not teach baptismal regerneration, we see just the opposite. So far in our examination of Mr. Kauffman's rebuttals, we find that he is zero for two. In the next installment of this series, we will look at Irenaeus (the Lord willing).


Grace and peace,

David

1 comment:

guy fawkes said...

David,
You said,
"Mr. Kauffman sure seems to be either ignorant of the fact that Catholic dogma does not limit the means of salvation to sacramental baptism only, or he is purposefully being deceptive here. "

I say Tim is guilty of the latter. He was raised Catholic after all.