Hippolytus and the Baptismal Ceremony of the 3rd century Roman Church

Chronicon has posted a digitalization of Hippolytus‘ work, Apostolic Tradition. Here are a few of the highlights:

Hippolytus, the first ‘antipope’ (although he later was taken back into the Church before his death), begins his work with:

We have duly completed what needed to be said about “Gifts”, describing those gifts which God by His own counsel has bestowed on men, in offering to Him­self His image which had gone astray. But now, moved by His love to all His saints, we pass on to our most im­portant theme, “The Tradition”, our teacher. And we address the churches, so that they who have been well trained, may, by our instruction, hold fast that tradition which has continued up to now and, knowing it well, may be strengthened. This is needful, because of that lapse or error which recently occurred through ignor­ance, and because of ignorant men. And [the] Holy Spirit will supply perfect grace to those who believe aright, that they may know how all things should be transmitted and kept by them who rule the church.

The writer is setting forth the proper way for bishops and elders, as well as other minor offices, to be ordained, but he touches on two issues of importance to me. First, we note that Hippolytus no where refers to Christ as God, as Ignatius had done two generations earlier; however, holding to what is later Marcellus’ thought, Hippolytus declares a distinction between the Incarnate Son and the Preincarnate Word.

Then,

Jesus Christ … Who is thy Word, inseparable from thee; through whom thou didst make all things and in whom thou art well pleased. Whom thou didst send from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, and who, dwelling within her, was made flesh, and was manifested as thy Son, being born of [the] Holy Spirit and the Virgin.

Hippolytus, in this work, rarely calls Jesus Christ anything by ‘your Servant Jesus Christ.’

For the baptism, which for Hippolytus has developed into a far reaching ceremony, surely not intended by even the most pretentious of the Apostles,

Then, after these things, let him give him over to the  presbyter who baptizes, and let the candidates stand in the water, naked, a deacon going with them likewise. 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 of 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?

We see the early creed, the early rule of faith stated by Hippolytus, but we also see how later doctrine was developed from this creed. For the first one hundred years, baptism was done in the name of Christ, but sometime before Justin, as the baptism formula changed, it became more developed, as we see here – before it would be contracted in later centuries to what we have in Matthew 28.19.

And when he says:

I believe,

he is baptized again. And again he shall say:

Dost thou believe in [the] Holy Ghost, and 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.

Note that nothing in Scripture allows for this baptismal formula (note as well, that baptism was considered a sacrament for the remission of sins (Acts 2.38; Romans 6.1-7))

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:

The next step connects both baptismal traditions (Matthew 28.19 and the book of Acts)

I anoint thee with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ. And so each one, after drying himself, is immediately 20 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.

As with the final baptism (of the three), the holy Spirit is here connected with the holy Church, perhaps in reference to

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV)

Post By Joel Watts (10,051 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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