Sunday, October 19, 2014

Timothy Kauffman on baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers: my critical examination continues


This post has been delayed by almost a month. Rather than bore readers with all that transpired during the last few weeks, I shall proceed right into the main emphasis of this thread—Timothy Kauffman's novel interpretations concerning baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers.

Tim (I will be referring to Timothy as Tim throughout the rest of this post, not out disrespect, but due to the fact that in our combox interactions, he refers to himself as such, so I am assuming that this is his preference) has published the final installment (#6) in his ongoing series, "THAT HE MIGHT PURIFY THE WATER" (link).

The following is the second paragraph of Tim's final installment:

Before we proceed with Methodius of Olympus, the last Ante-Niceæan Father cited by Called to Communion, we thought it would be worthwhile to interact very briefly with David Waltz who blogs at Articuli Fidei and has also commented at this site as well. We appreciate Waltz’s interaction and his willingness to engage on this topic.

Before moving on to Tim's reflections, I would like to say that I too appreciate Tim's, "interaction and his willingness to engage on this topic." Though I have grave concerns concerning a number of his novel interpretations of the early Church Fathers concerning baptism (and as you will see, his take on Dr. Ferguson), I sincerely appreciate the fact that he has been very charitable with me in our discussions, even though I have been quite critical at times. (I also appreciate the fact he has adopted a open policy when it comes to comments on his blog, a policy I firmly believe in, and employ here at AF).

Tim continued his post with:

Waltz responded to our posts, analyzed two fathers that we cited, and concluded that we were really “0 for 2″ in our analysis thus far, due in no small part to his reliance on Dr. Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church.  Waltz wrote here last week that Ferguson “is one of the (if not THE) foremost authorities on the NT and early [Church Fathers] teachings concerning baptism,” and thought that “perhaps [we] would not so easily dismiss” him.

I must correct Tim here, my conclusions concerning Justin Martyr and Tertullian were NOT, "due in no small part to his reliance on Dr. Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church", but rather, "due in no small part" to my own readings of their contributions on baptism. I cited Dr. Ferguson primarily for three reasons: first, because his assessments mirror my own; second, he is a contemporary patristic scholar, who has done extensive work on the topic of baptism in the early Church Fathers; and third, his reflections are representative of pretty much every patristic scholar who has written on the subject.

Tim then wrote:

But we do dismiss Ferguson, and we do so advisedly. There is very much we could write on this, but we will give only a few examples to make our point. Ferguson’s work is helpful as a resource, but it simply cannot be the final say on baptism in the fathers.

I agree with Tim that, "Ferguson’s work is helpful as a resource, but it simply cannot be the final say on baptism in the fathers"; however, I do not dismiss him as easily (so it seems) as Tim does. Tim goes on to offer a few examples of where he differs with Dr. Ferguson (which I hope to address in upcoming posts), but for now, I would like to explore some of Tim's presuppositions;  presuppositions which I believe have caused Tim to grossly misread the Church Fathers when it comes to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

One of Tim's presuppositions is: if a Church Father postulates that regeneration/new birth can occur apart from the sacrament of baptism, then that Church Father cannot believe in baptismal regeneration

Tim has committed a grave error here: the fact that God can, and does, provide other means than the sacrament of baptism to regenerate some of His children does not negate that one can still consistently believe that the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means by which God regenerates.

A second presupposition which leads Tim to incorrect assessments of the Church Fathers is: if baptism is referred in figures and/or as a sign and seal, then that Church Father cannot also believe in baptismal regeneration.

Once again, such beliefs do not negate that one can also maintain the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means by which God regenerates. Augustine, Aquinas, Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (to name but a few germane sources within the Catholic tradition), like Tertullian, all affirm that God has provided other means than the sacrament of baptism for the new birth. They use a number of figures when referencing baptism, calling baptism both a sign and a seal, and they do this while also clearly affirming that the sacrament of baptism in the ordinary means that God regenerates.

There is a third presupposition embraced by Tim, which may be the most detrimental one: his belief that the great apostasy spoken of in the NT occurred in the late 4th century.

Tim adamantly maintains that belief in baptismal regeneration is one of the outcomes of this supposed late 4th century apostasy; as such, Tim cannot allow a reading of any of the Church Fathers who wrote prior to this alleged apostasy which would suggest that they believed in baptismal regeneration, for such a reading would force him to jettison his cherished presupposition.

Armed with such presuppositions, one should not be surprised that Tim has developed interpretations of the Church Fathers concerning baptismal regeneration that are novel, and void of any support from patristic scholars.

Moving on, over the last couple of days, I have been rereading all of Tim's selections from the writings of Tertullian, and his novel interpretations of those passages. I have also reread a number of English translations of Tertullian's On Baptism, On Repentance, Against Marcion, and a few other passages that touch on baptism, consulting the Latin where the translations vary. I have come away from these fresh readings even more convinced than before that Tim has made some grave errors in his interpretations of Tertullian; Tim's novel interpretations just don't hold up when one reads Tertullian's writings in their full context.

Since I have already examined the concepts of 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire/repentance' in two previous threads (first; second)—reiterating that belief in such concepts do not preclude one from also believing that the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means that God uses to regenerate fallen mankind—I would now like to explore what I believe to be is the most important issue at hand: did Tertullian in his writings affirm that the sacrament of baptism regenerates ???

Even though Tim admitted that, "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", he then goes on to deny that such a defense includes the belief that the sacrament of baptism itself is the ordinary means which brings those graces to fruition. He argues that one should not adopt a "plain" reading of Tertullian here because, "Tertullian says more than this".

I ask: does Tertullian's non-"plain" musings negate his "plain" statements on this matter ??? Tim says yes, but I (and pretty much every patristic scholar I have read) say no. Interestingly enough, Tertullian himself castigates the heretic Marcion for negating the belief that the sacrament of baptism truly accomplishes what it is said to bring about. Note the following:

I see no coherence and consistency; no, not even in the very sacrament of his faith [i.e. baptism] ! For what end does baptism serve, according to him ? If the remission of sins, how will he make it evident that he remits sins, when he affords no evidence that he retains them? Because he would retain them, if he performed the functions of a judge. If deliverance from death, how could he deliver from death, who has not delivered to death ? For he must have delivered the sinner to death, if he had from the beginning condemned sin. If the regeneration of man, how can he regenerate, who has never generated ? For the repetition of an act is impossible to him, by whom nothing anytime has been ever done. If the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, how will he bestow the Spirit, who did not at first impart the life ? For the life is in a sense the supplement of the Spirit. He therefore seals man, who had never been unsealed in respect of him ; washes man, who had never been defiled so far as he was concerned ; and into this sacrament of salvation wholly plunges that flesh which is beyond the pale of salvation ! (Against Marcion, 1.28 - ANF volume 3.293.)

Tertullian clearly establishes that one should embrace a "plain" reading of his views on the sacrament of baptism, contrary to what Tim would have us to believe.

I would now like to address Tim's claim, "that the water of the baptismal font is merely a signification of the actual baptism that takes place in the heart."

Tim wrote:

Notice, for example, that Tertullian was so free in his use of figures that he actually has us drinking from the baptismal font unto eternal life. If taken literally, this is a divergence from the command of Christ, for He did not command that we “take and drink” the water of baptism. But if Tertullian is to be taken figuratively—as well he should—the water of baptism that we are to drink is the Word of God and the truth of Christ’s Passion, which revives us, which is to say, regenerates us. This Tertullian plainly states:

“For this tree in a mystery, it was of yore wherewith Moses sweetened the bitter water; whence the People, which was perishing of thirst in the desert, drank and revived; just as we do, who, drawn out from the calamities of the heathendom in which we were tarrying perishing with thirst (that is, deprived of the divine word), drinking, by the faith which is on Him, the baptismal water of the tree of the passion of Christ, have revived—a faith from which Israel has fallen away, ….” (Tertullian, An answer to the Jews, 13)

Note once again that we have a Church Father referring to Christ’s Passion as the “baptismal water,” or the laver of revivification, as it were. This is important because next we shall see that Tertullian insisted that the literal water of baptism ought not be approached until the spiritual water of baptism is already evident in the believer.

Take notice of what Tim is doing in his above interpretation: he is replacing "the baptismal water of the tree of the passion of Christ" with "Christ's Passion as [is] the 'baptismal water'". The "drinking" is no longer a metaphor for the sacrament of baptism (i.e. "the baptismal water"), but has now become solely faith in "Christ's passion". Tim has erroneously gotten rid of the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism, one of the, "two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side", mentioned by Tertullian in his On Baptism (chapter 16). The "baptismal water" (i.e. sacrament of baptism) is efficacious THROUGH "the tree of the passion of Christ", for "Christ [is], the 'font of the water of life'." From Christ's Passion comes "the water of life"; "the water of life" is not Christ's Passion itself, but flows out from His Passion, Christ being the "font".

Tim also replaced the evidence of true repentance on the part of the believer, with "the spiritual water of baptism", arguing that Tertullian's admonition to postpone the sacrament of baptism until there is solid evidence of true repentance, supports this replacement. This cleaver attempt is flawed, for if Tertullian thought that the sacrament of baptism was merely a "sign" and/or "seal" of something that had already taken place (in other words, the sacrament of baptism has no efficacious effect/s), why such stern warnings from Tertullian ? Fact is, Tertullian argued for the postponement of sacramental baptism because he believed that the effects produced by the sacrament of baptism (e.g. regeneration, forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, et al.) occurs only once. The effects of sacrament of baptism can be lost through post-baptismal sin—i.e. one who has been regenerated through baptism can become unregenerate through sin. And further, Tertullian believed that some post-baptismal sins are unforgivable (e.g. adultery, apostasy, murder), so he wanted to make sure that anyone who submitted to baptism had truly repented of their sins. In other words, Tertullian was not a Calvinist.

However, Tertullian did have a great deal in common with Thomas Aquinas. Like Aquinas, Tertullian believed that the sacrament of baptism regenerated; like Aquinas, he held that the sacrament of baptism receives it's efficacy from Christ's Passion; like Aquinas, he maintained that one could become unregenerate by post-baptismal sin; like Aquinas, he affirmed two other means than the sacrament of baptism by which one can be born-again—i.e. baptism of blood and baptism of repentance. (See appendix below for Aquinas' reflections.)

I sincerely doubt that Tim will jettison his novel interpretations of Tertullian, for I believe that his presuppositions will continue to prevent him from reading Tertullian in a "plain" sense, the very sense that Tertullian himself has asked his readers to embrace when it comes to the sacrament of baptism.

Shall end with a "plain" quote from Tertullian:

Now there is a standing rule that without baptism no man can obtain salvation. It derives in particular from that (well known) pronouncement of our Lord, who says, Except a man be born of water he cannot have life(On Baptism, 12.1)


Grace and peace,

David


Appendix: Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica Part 3, Q. 66, Art. 11

On the contrary, on Heb. 6:2, Of the doctrine of Baptisms, the gloss says : He uses the plural, because there is Baptism of Water, of Repentance, and of Blood.

  I answer that, As stated above (Q. 62, A. 5), Baptism of Water has its efficacy from Christ's Passion, to which a man is conformed by Baptism, and also from the Holy Ghost, as first cause. Now although the effect depends on the first cause, the cause far surpasses the effect, nor does it depend on it. Consequently, a man may, without Baptism of Water, receive the sacramental effect from Christ's Passion, in so far as he is conformed to Christ by suffering for Him. Hence it is written (Apoc. vii. 14) : These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. In like manner a man receives the effect of Baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost, not only without Baptism of Water, but also without Baptism of Blood: forasmuch as his heart is moved by the Holy Ghost to believe in and love God and to repent of his sins: wherefore this is also called Baptism of Repentance. Of this it is written (Isa. iv. 4) If the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. Thus, therefore, each of these other Baptisms is called Baptism, forasmuch as it takes the place of Baptism. Wherefore Augustine says (De Unico Baptismo Parvulorum iv) : The Blessed Cyprian argues with considerable reason from the thief to whom, though not baptized, it was said: "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" that suffering can take the place of Baptism. Having weighed this in my mind again and again, I perceive that not only can suffering for the name of Christ supply for what was lacking in Baptism, but even faith and conversion of heart, if perchance on account of the stress of the times the celebration of the mystery of Baptism is not practicable.

 Reply to Obj. 1.  The other two Baptisms are included in the Baptism of Water, which derives its efficacy, both from Christ's Passion and from the Holy Ghost. Consequently for this reason the unity of Baptism is not destroyed.


  Reply to Objection 2.  As stated above (Q. 60, A. 1), a sacrament is a kind of sign. The other two, however, are like the Baptism of Water, not, indeed, in the nature of sign, but in the baptismal effect. Consequently they are not sacraments.

  Reply to Objection 3.  Damascene enumerates certain figurative Baptisms. For instance, the Deluge was a figure of our Baptism, in respect of the salvation of the faithful in the Church; since then a few . . . souls were saved in the ark [Vulg.: 'by water'], according to 1 Pt. 3:20. He also mentions the crossing of the Red Sea : which was a figure of our Baptism, in respect of our delivery from the bondage of sin; hence the Apostle says (1 Cor. x. 2) that all . . . were baptized in the cloud and in the sea. And again he mentions the various washings which were customary under the Old Law, which were figures of our Baptism, as to the cleansing from sins: also the Baptism of John, which prepared the way for our Baptism. (Summa Theologica, Pt. III, Q. 66. A. 11; CHRISTIAN CLASSICS - Complete English Edition in Five Volumes, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1911, 1948, 1981, IV. pp. 2384, 2385—html version available online link.)

No comments: