An Awe-Inspiring Ceremony
IN ABOUT A.D. 215, Hippolytus described in detail how converts in Rome were baptized. Scholar Michael Walsh summarizes Hippolytus’ account of the ceremony:
“To understand the impact of baptism it is important to remember the length of the preparation and the atmosphere of the occasion. It had been preceded by at least three years of instruction, with the promise of more secrets to come at the moment of baptism. There was, therefore, a heightened sense of anticipation. Immediately before the ceremony came a fast, a long period of prayer, an all-night vigil in a darkened building.
“Then, in the dim light of wavering torches, the Devil was solemnly abjured to flee in a series of exorcisms. The candidate entered the baptistery.
“First he or she turned toward the west to renounce Satan, then toward the east to confess Christ. There were repeated anointings with oil, the symbol of strength. Once at least the naked candidate was anointed from head to toe. Then, oiled as if for bathing, the candidate entered the font, climbing in . . . or stepping down until knee—deep while a deacon poured water over the head, or pressed the candidate’s head down into the pool.
“There was another anointing perhaps—rituals differed—before the candidate dressed in new clothes. All this took place in the half-light, to the sound of hymns, in a state of high exaltation. Then came confirmation—another anointing—and the new Christian moved out of the torchlight into the dawn of a brightly lit church to receive his or her first Eucharist.”
Questions During Baptism
What questions were asked of candidates for baptism? Hippolytus tells us in detail:
And when he who is being baptized goes down into the water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say thus: “Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty?”
And he who is being baptized shall say: “I believe.”
Then holding his hand placed on his head, he shall baptize him once.
And then he shall say: “Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?”
And when he says: “I believe,” he is baptized again.
And again he shall say: “Dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost; in the holy church, and the resurrection of the flesh?”
He who is being baptized shall say accordingly: “I believe,” and so he is baptized a third time.
And afterward, when he has come up [out of the water], he is anointed by the presbyter with the oil of thanksgiving, the presbyter saying: “I anoint thee with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ.”
And so each one, after drying himself, is immediately clothed, and then is brought into the church.
Then the bishop, laying his hand upon them, shall pray, saying: “O Lord God, who hast made them worthy to obtain remission of sins through the laver of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, send into them thy grace, that they may serve thee according to thy will; for thine is the glory, to the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit in the holy Church, both now and world without end. Amen.”
Then, pouring the oil of thanksgiving from his hand and putting it on his forehead, he shall say: “I anoint thee with holy oil in the Lord, the Father Almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Ghost.”
And signing them on the forehead he shall say: “The Lord be with thee”; and he who is signed shall say: “and with thy spirit.”
And so he shall do to each one.
By the Editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #37 in 1993]
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