Cyprian of Carthage on Baptismal Regeneration

For it has been delivered to us, that there is one God, and one Christ, and one hope, and one faith, and one Church, and one baptism ordained only in the one Church, from which unity whosoever will depart must needs be found with heretics; and while he upholds them against the Church, he impugns the sacrament of the divine tradition. The sacrament of which unity we see expressed also in the Canticles, in the person of Christ, who says, A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a fountain sealed, a well of living water, a garden with the fruit of apples.But if His Church is a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed, how can he who is not in the Church enter into the same garden, or drink from its fountain? Moreover, Peter himself, showing and vindicating the unity, has commanded and warned us that we cannot be saved, except by the one only baptism of one Church. In the ark, says he, of Noah, few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water, as also baptism shall in like manner save you.” In how short and spiritual a summary has he set forth the sacrament of unity! For as, in that baptism of the world in which its ancient iniquity was purged away, he who was not in the ark of Noah could not be saved by water, so neither can he appear to be saved by baptism who has not been baptized in the Church which is established in the unity of the Lord according to the sacrament of the one ark. (Epistle LXXIII)

For Cyprian, it was clear that baptism was a unifying measure for the Saint to the Church

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40 Replies to “Cyprian of Carthage on Baptismal Regeneration”

  1. Indeed, Cyprian’s main theology was the Apostolic Unity. And he also was quite involved over the baptism of those who had fallen into schisim over sacrifice to idols. And too he was in conflict over disaffected clergy. But he was quite popular with his writings even in his day, as Bishop of Carthage.
    Fr. R.

  2. Joel,
    Thanks to remind me, something I can also say to our E. Orthodox friends. They seem to want to make him some real far out heretic. Which just because of “his” Montanism is really unfair.
    Fr. R.

  3. Your comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals and Reformed have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the “how” of salvation!

    Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several possible “when”s of salvation, it is not the “how” of salvation. The “how” of salvation is and always has been the power of God’s Word/God’s declaration of righteousness.

    A sinner can be saved by the power of God’s Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

    However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

    It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner’s spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your “decision for Christ” does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

    God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

    God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

    The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

      1. You are stumbling on the statement, “we confess that baptism is necessary for salvation”.

        If you open the Book of Concord with your eyes closed, and blindly point to the page that contains this statement and then close the book, you will walk away believing that Luther and the other Lutheran “Fathers” taught that if one died prior to baptism that he would go to hell.

        That would mean that Luther and the other early Lutherans believed that ALL the saints in the OT, the thief of the cross, thousands of Christian martyrs over the last two thousand years, and many thousands more over that time period who believed and repented as adults but before they could make it to the river or baptismal font to be baptized, they died or were killed… are all now burning in the flames of hell!

        That is preposterous! Not even Rome teaches that!

        This is a case in point: don’t just pick out one phrase from a very thick book and build a doctrine on it!

        Lutherans believe that God definitely does save in baptism. But it is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of belief that damns, as Christ states in Mark 16:16.

        It is the believer who rejects/despises baptism or is too lazy and careless to follow God’s command to be baptized who should fear for his eternal security, not the man who just heard the Gospel and believed, but on his way to the river to be baptized is mauled by a lion and dies.

          1. Here is the last statement from the Lutheran pastor you quoted in this link:

            “My conclusion from the Bible, Luther’s Works, and the Lutheran Confessions is that we should always publicly teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation. However, the God who saves, depending on the circumstances and His choice, certainly saves people without baptism. He has not given us a list of exceptions. He gave us baptism. We should teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation and deal with exceptions, as we might humanly conclude they are, on an individual basis. We don’t build theology on exceptions but the Word of God. 1Peter 3:21 says, “Baptism doth now save us.” We look for assurance in God’s Word and promises.”

            This Lutheran pastor is absolutely correct! The plain, simple, literal translation of the Bible, in multiple passages, very clearly states that God saves sinners and forgives sins in Baptism. Baptists, evangelicals, and the Reformed must twist themselves into pretzels to explain away God’s plain, simple words to say that Baptism has no meaning other than a public profession of faith or some vague form of covenantal membership in the Church.

            The Lutheran pastor you quote and I are saying the same thing. Baptism is NOT absolutely necessary in every situation for salvation. But… is baptism necessary for salvation? Yes!

            Let me explain: Let’s say that I am sharing the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ with a non-believer. At the end of telling him that Christ loves him, that Christ died and paid the penalty for all his sins, and that by believing in Christ as his Lord and Savior, his God, and by repenting of his sins, he can receive salvation and eternal life, this person responds and says:

            Wow. That sounds great. I BELIEVE! I REPENT! I want to be a Christian…but… I really don’t want my friends to know. They will think I’m being really uncool. Let’s just keep this between you and me. I know that you said that Christ commands me to be baptized, but I think I’ll skip baptism. My friends will hear about it and I’ll be the laughing stock of the neighborhood. If all I have to do is believe internally to be a Christian, nobody else has to know. Ok? Baptism isn’t necessary for my salvation is it?

            My response would be: ABSOLUTELY baptism is necessary for your salvation! In baptism, God forgives and washes away our sins. In baptism we are buried and resurrected with Christ. In baptism we are made a new creature. Your unwillingness to follow Christ’s command to be baptized is a sign that your faith is very likely not genuine. It is not the lack of baptism which will damn you, it is the lack of belief/faith that will damn you. By refusing to be baptized, you are in essence declaring to the world that you do not have true faith. If you refuse/reject/spurn baptism…it is very possible that you are not saved.

            Second example: I share the Gospel with another man, who like the individual above, believes in Christ as his Lord and Savior and repents of his sins. I advise him that Christ commands him to be baptized. This man eagerly agrees to be baptized, just as did the Ethiopian eunuch. But as I take him down to the river to baptize him, he drops over dead of a heart attack. Will he go to hell because he was not baptized? No! He will go to heaven! Why? Because he had true faith!

            Salvation always occurs by the power of God’s Word/God’s declaration of righteousness received in faith, which is a free gift to those whom God has appointed to believe as stated in Acts 13:48.

            Yes, baptism IS necessary for salvation, but baptism is not absolutely mandatory in every situation.

            Seems contradictory? It is a paradox. We Lutherans accept paradoxes. We do not try to understand them by forcing them to conform to human logic and reason, as do our Reformed and evangelical brethren.

          2. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the WORD of God.”

            Salvation has always been through the power of God’s Word. And who is the Word?

            Jesus Christ!

            So absolutely, Christ is ALWAYS necessary.

          3. You make a very good point.

            However, your distinction between “not absolutely necessary” and “not mandatory” may be understood by an educated theologian as yourself, but to John and Jane Doe in the pew, I doubt they get the distinction.

            Bottom line, a believer should ALWAYS be baptized, unless death prevents it.

          4. Gary, it might surprise you to know that we actually agree. But, I would ask that you lose the condescending tone. I am not your average pew sitter and know a fair bit about the Book of Concord and Lutheranism.

            Now, this discussion started off when you said baptism is not necessary for salvation, which in your latest comment, you contradict.

            Nowhere did I or Joel say baptism is mandatory for salvation, that’s legalism. But to say baptism is not necessary, well, that’s antinomianism!

            Necessary, not mandatory. Two different concepts.

  4. I apologize if I came across as condescending. My intent was to share the true Gospel message of salvation. I am glad to hear we are in agreement. “Necessary but not mandatory”. I like that.

    I couldn’t find on your site which branch of Christianity you follow. Are you Lutherans?

    1. Our denomination isn’t going to show up outside of our Gravatar profile (If you hover over the avatar pic, you can see our profile), because there are many contributors to this blog, all of which come from different Christian traditions. Sadly, I am the only Lutheran who contributes to this blog (I’m of the ELCA variety).

      1. Cool!

        I am the son of a fundamentalist Baptist preacher. In my late twenties I found Lutheranism. It was an incredible discovery to learn that even my “decision for Christ” is a work. Salvation is ALL God. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation.

        Now THAT is a free gift!

          1. Well, brother, before you jump into either the Thames or the Tiber, check out the Elbe. Beautiful Wittenberg awaits you with open arms!

            Check out a high church, confessional/orthodox Lutheran Church such as mine in San Diego:


            We liturgical, orthodox Lutherans are Rome without Works Righteousness and London without the Refomed influence on the Sacraments.

            God’s blessings!

          2. Sorry, but I tend to go with Scripture, and thus the falsely-called ‘works righteousness’ and for me, personally, I’m pretty high sacrament, like Jesus was.

          3. Would you mind explaining your statement a little bit. I am not a theologian, just a well-read (?) pew-warmer.

            Lutherans DO believe that good works are necessary. No good works, means no true faith, which means no salvation. Lutherans do believe that a believer can lose his salvation by a rejection of Christ or by ongoing, willful sin. Infant baptism nor an evangelical “decision for Christ” are automatic tickets into heaven. Good works MUST be present.

            Are you saying that you believe that there are SEVEN sacraments, not just two?

          4. I’m saying that our works are meritorious. It perfects our salvation so that we may grow in Grace. We will be judged according to our deeds.

            As far as Sacrament – I would see two, although I’d argue for a third (Scripture).

            What I mean by high sacrament is that I believe it is the body and the bloody and that baptism saves us.

          5. Well, on the first subject we will have to agree to disagree. Good works are necessary as proof of true belief and faith, but not to assist in one’s salvation. Justification is all Christ. Sanctification is a team effort.

            No good works—>no true faith—>no salvation.

            Notice we both end up at the same place.

            Lutherans DO believe that the bread and wine are the real, resurrected body and blood of Christ. To Lutherans we truly do “eat his body and drink his blood”. We cannot, however, give a certain answer on just how that actually happens, as do the Roman Catholics (although their belief in Transubstantiation did not exist in the Early Church, but was pronounced as dogma around 1,000 AD). We Lutherans say that transubstantiation is certainly possible to explain the “mystery” of the Sacrament, but since God did not spell it out, we don’t stick our necks out and take a guess. (Good ol’ German caution!)

            Baptism saves and forgives sins.

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