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Testimony from Tertullian, Barnabas, Justin, Methodius, the Apostolic Constitutions, etc.—Holy Water, or Repeated Baptism, Borrowed without Change—Magical Effects of Holy Water, the Same in Christian as in Pagan Cult—Baptism of Animals by Holy Water, to Produce Magical Results—Holy Water Prepared after the Pagan Method—Consecration of Baptismal Waters Borrowed from Pagan Combination of Sun- and Water-Worship—The Church Filled with Baptized but Unconverted Pagans, and so Passed under Pagan Control.
Baptism in the Early Church.

Turning to the earlier Church fathers, who formulated much which has come to us as Christian doctrine, we find the pagan idea of baptism repeated in all its essential characteristics. We have seen that the Greek fathers came to Christianity by way of Neo-Platonism rather than the New Testament. They accepted Christianity as containing many excellent things, but not as the only authoritative system of faith. They followed the popular syncretic tendency, and combined Christianity with the pagan faith in which they had been educated.


Tertullian wrote a special treatise on the question of baptism, which represents the pagano-Christian creed in fulness and in detail. I transcribe his words in part, and call attention to the similarity and the points of identity between these and the pagan theories already presented. Chapter i. of the treatise opens with these words:

“Happy is the sacrament of our water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free [and admitted] into eternal life!... But we, little fishes, after the example of our Ιχθυ?, Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in [that] water.”[126]

In the succeeding chapters Tertullian goes on to show that water was “chosen as a vehicle of divine operation” because it was the element over which the divine spirit brooded in creation. He says:

“Why should Water be chosen as a vehicle of divine operation? Its prominence first of all in Creation.—Mindful of this declaration as of a conclusive prescript, we nevertheless [proceed to] treat [the question], ‘How foolish and impossible it is to be formed anew by water. In what respect, pray, has this material substance merited an office of so high dignity?’ The authority, I suppose, of the liquid element has to be examined. This, however, is found in abundance, and that from the very beginning. For [water] is one of those things, which, before all the furnishing of the world, were quiescent with God in a yet[130] unshapen state. In the first beginning, saith [Scripture], ‘God made the heaven and the earth. But the earth was invisible, and unorganized, and darkness was over the abyss; and the Spirit of the Lord was hovering over the waters.’ The first thing, oh man, which you have to venerate, is the age of the waters, in that their substance is ancient; the second, their dignity, in that they were the seat of the Divine Spirit, more pleasing [to him], no doubt, than all the other then existing elements. For the darkness was total thus far, shapeless, without the ornament of stars; and the abyss gloomy; and the earth unfurnished; and the heaven unwrought; water alone—always a perfect, gladsome, simple material substance, pure in itself—supplied a worthy vehicle to God. What [of the fact] that waters were in some way the regulating powers by which the disposition of the world thenceforward was constituted by God? For the suspension of the celestial firmament in the midst He caused by ‘dividing the waters’; the suspension of ‘the dry land,’ He accomplished by ‘separating the waters.’ After the world had been hereupon set in order through [its] elements, when inhabitants were given it, ‘the waters’ were the first to receive the precept, ‘to bring forth living creatures.’ Water was the first to produce that which had life, that it might be no wonder in baptism if waters know how to give life. For was not the work of fashioning man himself also achieved with the aid of waters? Suitable material is found in the earth, yet not apt for the purpose unless it be moist and juicy; which [earth] ‘the waters’ separated the fourth day before into their own place, temper with their remaining moisture to a clayey consistency. If, from that time onward, I go forward in[131] recounting universally, or at more length [than I have already done] the evidences of the ‘authority’ of this element which I can adduce to show how great is its power or its grace; how many ingenious devices, how many functions, how useful an instrumentality, it affords the world, I fear I may seem to have collected rather the praises of water than the reasons of baptism; although I should [thereby] teach all the more fully, that it is not to be doubted that God has made the material substance which he has disposed throughout all his products and works, obey him also in his own peculiar sacraments; that [the material substance] which governs terrestrial life acts as agent likewise in the celestial.”

The title of chapter iv. is:

“The primeval hovering of the Spirit of God over the waters typical of baptism. The universal element of water thus made a channel of sanctification. Resemblance between the outward sign and the inward grace.”

In this chapter Tertullian teaches that the divine power hovering over the water, in creation, made it “holy” as well as life-producing, and that these qualities continue to exist in all water. He says:

“Thus the nature of the waters, sanctified by the Holy One, itself conceived withal the power of sanctifying. Let no one say, ‘Why, then, are we, pray, baptized with the very waters which then existed in the first beginning?’ Not with those very waters, of course, except in so far as the genus indeed is one, but the species very many. But what is an attribute to the genus reappears likewise in the[132] species. And accordingly it makes no difference whether a man be washed in a sea or a pool, a stream or a font, a lake or a trough; nor is there any distinction between those whom John baptized in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber, unless withal [it be thought that] the eunuch whom Philip baptized in the midst of his journeys with chance water, derived [therefrom] more or less of salvation [than others]. All waters, therefore, in virtue of the pristine privilege of their origin, do, after invocation of God, attain the sacramental power of sanctification; for the Spirit immediately supervenes from the heavens, and rests over the waters, sanctifying them from himself; and being thus sanctified, they imbibe at the same time the power of sanctifying.”

In chapter v. Tertullian discusses the pagan theory as embodied in the rites of Isis, Mithra, the Apollinarian and the Eleusinian games, and attempts to show that cleansing cannot come through these rites, because idols cannot imbue the water with sanctifying power, and evil spirits can impart only evil influences. He expresses faith in their power to do this, thus showing that he still held to the fundamental features of the pagan system, and made them the basis of his theory of Christian baptism.

The Epistle of Barnabas presents a similar combination of fact and fancy concerning baptism. The pagan idea of water as a regenerating power underlies the theory set forth, and the reader will[133] see how Scripture is misquoted and misapplied in the effort to give a scriptural coloring to the pagan theory. Chapter xi. of the epistle is entitled:

“Baptism and the Cross Prefigured in the Old Testament.—Let us further inquire whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water [of baptism] and the cross. Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves. The prophet therefore declares: ‘Be astonished, O heaven, and let the earth tremble at this, because this people hath committed two great evils; they have forsaken me, a living fountain, and have hewn out for themselves broken cisterns. Is my holy hill Zion a desolate rock? For ye shall be as the fledglings of a bird, which fly away when the nest is removed.’ And again saith the prophet: ‘I will go before thee and make level the mountains, and will break the brazen gates, and bruise in pieces the iron bars; and I will give thee the secret, hidden, invisible treasures, that they may know that I am the Lord God.’ And, ‘He shall dwell in a lofty cave of the strong rock.’ Furthermore, what saith He in reference to the Son? ‘His water is sure; ye shall see the King in His glory, and your soul shall meditate on the fear of the Lord.’ And again He saith in another prophet: ‘The man who doeth these things shall be like a tree planted by the courses of waters, which shall yield its fruit in due season; and his leaf shall not fade, and all that he doeth shall prosper. Not so are the ungodly, not so, but even as chaff, which the wind sweeps away from the face of the earth. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in judgment,[134] nor sinners in the counsel of the just; for the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.’ Mark how He has described at once both the water and the cross. For these words imply, Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water; for, says He, they shall receive their reward in due time; then He declares, I will recompense them. But now He saith, ‘Their leaves shall not fade.’ This meaneth that every word which proceedeth out of your mouth in faith and love shall tend to bring conversion and hope to many. Again, another prophet saith, ‘And the land of Jacob shall be extolled above every land.’ This meaneth the vessel of His Spirit, which He shall glorify. Further, what says He? ‘And there was a river flowing on the right, and from it arose beautiful trees; and whosoever shall eat of them shall live forever.’ This meaneth that we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit. ‘And whosoever shall eat of these shall live forever.’ This meaneth: Whosoever, He declares, shall hear thee speaking, and believe, shall live forever.”[127]

Justin Martyr combines his theory with his description of the rite of baptism as follows. Note the misquotation of Scripture:

“I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the[135] explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God, with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said: ‘Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mother’s womb, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins is declared by Esaias, the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: ‘Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow; and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.’ And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there[136] is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed, calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if anyone dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who, through the prophets, foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.”[128]

The pagano-Christian theory of baptism and baptismal regeneration, variously expressed, is found in Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, chapter vi; in Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, chapter xii; in Tertullian, Against Marcion, book i., chapter xxviii; in Cyprian, Epistles,[129]—1, To Donatus; 22, To Clergy at Rome; 51, To Antonianus; and 75, To Magnus; also Testimonies against the Jews, paragraph 65; also, A Treatise on Re-baptism, by an unknown author, published in connection with Cyprian’s writings, on page 402 of Clark’s edition Ante-Nicene Library, vol. xiii.

The Apostolic Constitutions clearly set forth the[137] result of this perversion of New Testament doctrines concerning baptism. The late Baron Bunsen, one of the most eminent of German scholars and statesmen, has grouped the teachings of the Constitutions upon the question of baptism in such a way as to give the reader a better view than is possible by quoting these writings verbatim. Although these Constitutions are not the work of the apostles, they are of great historic value in presenting a picture of the practices of the early Church. Bunsen thinks that the Constitutions present “a genuine, though not textual, picture of the Ante-Nicene Church.” He says:

“As soon as we take away what belongs to the bad taste of the fiction, all the ethic introductions and occasional moralizing conclusions, and, in general, all which manifestly is re-written with literary pretension, and lastly, as soon as we expunge some easily discernible interpolations of the fourth and fifth centuries, we find ourselves unmistakably in the midst of the life of the Church of the second and third centuries.”[130]

The summary made by Bunsen is given below. By analyzing it the reader will see how much that is extra-scriptural, and anti-scriptural, was associated with baptism thus early. By comparison with the pagan water cultus, the source of these errors is plainly apparent.


“And at the time of the crowing of the cock let them first pray over the water. Let the water be drawn into the font, or flowing into it. And let it be thus if they have no scarcity. But if there be a scarcity, let them pour the water which shall be found into the font; and let them undress themselves, and the young shall be first baptized. And all who are able to answer for themselves, let them answer. But those who are not able to answer, let their parents answer for them, or one other numbered amongst their relations. And after the great men have been baptized, at the last the women, they having loosed all their hair, and having laid aside the ornaments of gold and silver which were on them. Let not anyone take a strange garment with him into the water.

“And at the time which is appointed for the baptism, let the bishop give thanks over the oil, which, putting into a vessel, he shall call the oil of thanksgiving. Again, he shall take other oil, and exorcising over it, he shall call it the oil of exorcism. And a deacon shall bear the oil of exorcism and stand on the left hand of the presbyter. Another deacon shall take the oil of thanksgiving and stand on the right hand of the presbyter.

“And when the presbyter has taken hold of each one of those who are about to receive baptism, let him command him to renounce, saying: ‘I will renounce thee, Satan, and all thy service, and all thy works.’ And when he has renounced all these, let him anoint him with the oil of exorcism, saying: ‘Let every spirit depart from thee.’

“And let the bishop or the presbyter receive him thus unclothed, to place him in the water of baptism. Also let the deacon go with him into the water, and let him say to him, helping him that he may say: ‘I believe in[139] the only true God, the Father Almighty, and in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, and in the Holy Spirit, the Quickener, [the Consubstantial Trinity]. One Sovereignty, one Kingdom, one Faith, one Baptism; in the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, in the life everlasting. Amen.’

“And let him who receives (baptism) repeat after all these: ‘I believe thus.’ And he who bestows it shall lay his hand upon the head of him who receives, dipping him three times, confessing these things each time.

“And afterwards, let him say again: ‘Dost thou believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, the Father; that he became man in a wonderful manner for us, in an incomprehensible unity, by his Holy Spirit, of Mary, the Holy Virgin, without the seed of man; and that he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, died of his own will, once for our redemption, rose on the third day, loosening the bonds (of death), he ascended up into heaven, sat on the right hand of his good Father on high, and he cometh again to judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom? And dost thou believe in the Holy Good Spirit and Quickener, who wholly purifieth; and in the Holy Church?’

“Let him say again: ‘I believe.’

“And let them go up out of the water, and the presbyter shall anoint him with the oil of thanksgiving, saying: ‘I anoint thee with holy anointing oil in the name of Jesus Christ.’ Thus he shall anoint every one of the rest, and clothe them as the rest, and they shall enter into the Church.”[131]


After entering the church the candidate was anointed a second time, in connection with the “prayer of blessing” and the “kiss of peace.” This was followed by the service of the communion, which included bread, wine, milk and honey, showing that the Lord’s Supper, as well as baptism, was corrupted with pagan elements.
Holy Water.

The use of holy water formed an important part of the pagan system. It was a sort of continuous baptism, a succession of baptismal acts. That it is wholly unscriptural, and in every way foreign to Christian baptism, is too obvious to need statement. There are abundant evidences of its pagan origin; among them are the following:

“Some persons derive the use of holy water in the churches from the Jews; but that it has been derived from the ancient heathens of Rome is now very generally believed, and, indeed, is warmly defended by the intelligent Ecclesiastics at Rome, on the principle that, as the heathen temples have been turned into Christian churches, so it was well to lay hold of the heathen practices and turn them into Christian customs, thus reconciling the heathen to a change of religion, seeing it did not change their favorite rites and customs. At the entrance of the heathen temples there were vessels of water with which the votaries sprinkled themselves as they entered to worship, and as it seemed desirable to make as little difference as possible, so as to induce the heathen to conform[141] the more readily to Christian worship, similar vessels of water consecrated or made holy, were placed at the entrance of the Christian churches, and thus the custom has continued. Such at least is the origin generally ascribed at Rome to this practice, and such the principle on which it is defended by the men of mind and judgment among the priesthood.”[132]

Dr. Joseph Priestley thus supplements Mr. Seymore’s statements:

“In Popish churches the first thing that we are struck with is a vessel of what is called holy water, into which those who enter dip their fingers, and then mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross. This holy water, there can be no doubt, came from the lustral water of the pagans, as, indeed, learned Catholics allow. This water was also placed at the entrance of the heathen temples, and those who entered were sprinkled with it.”[133]

Conyers Middleton attests the pagan origin of holy water:

“The next thing that will of course strike one’s imagination is their use of holy water; for nobody ever goes in or out of a church but is either sprinkled by the priest, who attends for that purpose on solemn days, or else serves himself with it from a vessel, usually of marble, placed just at the door, not unlike to one of our baptismal fonts. Now, this ceremony is so notoriously and directly transmitted to them from paganism, that their own writers[142] make not the least scruple to own it. The Jesuit la Cerda, in his notes on a passage of Virgil, where this practice is mentioned, says: ‘Hence was derived the custom of Holy Church to provide purifying or holy water at the entrance of their Churches.’ ‘Aquaminarium or Amula,’ says the learned Montfaucon, ‘was a vase of holy water, placed by the Heathen at the entrance of their Temples to sprinkle themselves with.’ The same vessel was by the Greeks called περι??αντ?ριον; two of which, the one of gold, the other of silver, were given by Cr?sus to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi; and the custom of sprinkling themselves was so necessary a part of all their religious offices, that the method of excommunication seems to have been by prohibiting to offenders the approach and use of the holy water-pot. The very composition of this holy water was the same also among the Heathens, as it is now among the Papists, being nothing more than a mixture of salt with common water; and the form of the sprinkling brush, called by the ancients aspersorium or aspergillum (which is much the same with what the priests now make use of), may be seen in bas-reliefs, or ancient coins, wherever the insignia, or emblems of the Pagan priesthood, are described, of which it is generally one.

“Palatina, in his lives of the popes, and other authors, ascribes the institution of this holy water to Pope Alexander the First; who is said to have lived about the year of Christ 113; but it could not have been introduced so early, since, for some ages after, we find the primitive fathers speaking of it as a custom purely heathenish, and condemning it as impious, and detestable. Justin Martyr says that it was invented by demons, in imitation of the[143] true baptism signified by the Prophets, that their votaries might also have their pretended purifications by water; and the Emperor Julian, out of spite to the Christians, used to order the victuals in the markets to be sprinkled with holy water, on purpose either to starve, or force them to eat what by their own principles they esteemed polluted.

“Thus we see what contrary notions the Primitive and Romish Church have of this ceremony: the first condemns it as superstitious, abominable, and irreconcilable with Christianity; the latter adopts it as highly edifying and applicable to the improvement of Christian piety: the one looks upon it as the contrivance of the Devil to delude mankind; the other as the security of mankind against the delusions of the Devil. But what is still more ridiculous than even the ceremony itself, is to see their learned writers gravely reckoning up the several virtues and benefits, derived from the use of it, both to the soul and the body; and to crown all, producing a long roll of miracles, to attest the certainty of each virtue, which they ascribe to it. Why may we not, then, justly apply to the present people of Rome what was said by the Poet of its old inhabitants, for the use of this very ceremony?
“‘Ah, easy Fools, to think that a whole Flood
Of water e’er can purge the Stain of Blood!’
Ovid, Fasti, ii., 45.”[134]

Mr. Middleton wrote as a polemist against Romanism, and hence he took especial pains to apply[144] these facts to that system of Christianity exclusively. Such an application is manifestly unjust, since baptism was fully corrupted before the formal establishment of the Papacy, and many corrupt elements are yet retained in Protestantism. Mr. Middleton’s suggestion that men were debarred from the use of holy water as a punishment is sustained by the following from ?schines. In his speech against Ctesiphon he said:

“Now the said law-giver (Solon) excludes as well the fearful, and him that refuses to serve in war, as him that deserts his rank in battle, from the privilege of holy lustration, and from the assembly of the people.”[135]

The magical virtues which Christians came to ascribe to holy water are essentially identical with those which the pagans attributed to it. Mr. Seymore, whom we have already quoted, gives a catalogue of the uses and virtues of holy water, which he found in the chapel of St. Carlo Borromeo at Rome. Similar virtues are still attributed to it by modern Catholics.[136] The catalogue is as follows:

“Holy water possesses much usefulness when Christians sprinkle themselves with it with due reverence and devotion. The Holy Church proposes it as a remedy and[145] assistant in many circumstances, both spiritual and corporeal, but especially in these following:

“Its spiritual usefulness.

“1. It drives away devils from places and persons.

“2. It affords great assistance against fears and diabolical illusions.

“3. It cancels venial sins.

“4. It imparts strength to resist temptation and occasions to sin.

“5. It drives away wicked thoughts.

“6. It preserves safely from the passing snares of the devil, both internally and externally.

“7. It obtains the favor and presence of the Holy Ghost by which the soul is consoled, rejoiced, excited to devotion, and disposed to prayer.

“8. It prepares the human mind for a better attendance on the divine mysteries, and receiving piously and worthily the most holy sacrament.

“Its corporeal usefulness.

“1. It is a remedy against barrenness, both in woman and in beast.

“2. It is a preservation from sickness.

“3. It heals the infirmities both of the mind and of the body.

“4. It purifies infected air, and drives away plague and contagion.

“Such is this document. It is the only authorized one I have seen respecting holy water; and this extraordinary statement stands as publicly in the church as do the ten commandments in a church in England. It is affixed separately over each of the vessels containing the Holy Water; and as every member of the congregation must[146] have sprinkled himself with the water as he entered the church, so he may have seen and read these, its uses.”[137]

Holy water was also used to sprinkle animals. This custom continues in the Roman Church. The counterpart is found in several pagan customs which are described by Ovid in Fasti, as already quoted, and further as shown in book i., line 669. Speaking of animals, Mr. Seymore says:

“It was supposed to guard them [horses] against evil genii as they ran the race; and a legend is told of the horses of some Christians having outstripped all the horses of the heathen, owing to their being sprinkled with holy water. Such a legend serves as a sanction of primitive Christianity to horse-races, quite as well as to the use of holy water. The pagan custom soon became a papal custom, and falling in with the humor of the people, and the patronage of St. Anthony, who is usually pictured accompanied by a pig, and being conducive to the pecuniary interests of the convent of St. Anthony, the custom was continued under a new name, and ‘St. Anthony’s day’ and the ‘blessing of the horses’ are thus identified.”[138]
Roman Catholics Defend this Use.

Dr. Wiseman, who stands high as a Roman Catholic authority, in his third letter, in reply to Poynder’s Pagano-Papismus defends the use of holy water:


“But did not the ancient Christians use holy water? Indeed they did, and that in a manner to shame us. They did not sprinkle themselves with it, to be sure, or help themselves from a vessel at the door, as you express it; they did more than either, they bathed in it. Read Pacciandi, De Sacris Christianorum Balneis, Rome, 1758, and you will find much to instruct you on this subject. You will see how the ancient Christians used to bathe themselves before going to church after the commission of any sin. ‘Why do you run to the bath after sin?’ asks St. John Chrysostom. ‘Is it not because you consider yourselves dirtier than any filth?’ And Theophylactus writes in a similar strain. An ancient Christian bath was discovered by Ciampini among the ruins of Rome. But what is more to our purpose, the ancient Christians never went to receive the Eucharist, or even to pray in their churches, without washing their hands. ‘What propriety is there,’ says Tertullian, ‘to go to prayer with washed hands and yet with an unclean spirit?’ St. Chrysostom is still stronger: ‘Thou darest not touch the sacred victim with unwashed hands, although pressed by extreme necessity; approach not, therefore, with an unwashed soul.’ To supply the necessary convenience for this rite, a fountain or basin was provided at the church porch at which the faithful washed, as St. Paulinus of Nola several times described in the churches which he built.... St. Leo the Great built one at the gate of St. Paul’s Church which was celebrated by Ennodius of Pavia in eight verses.... The same was the practice of the Greek Church; for Eusebius tells us with commendation how Paulinus, Bishop of Tyre, placed in the porch of a splendid church which he built, the symbols of sacred purification, that is, fountains[148] which gave, by their abundant supply, means of washing themselves to those who entered the temple.[139]

“In fact, we have several of the old lustral vases with early Christian symbols and inscriptions, belonging to both the churches, as a celebrated Latin one at Pesaro, and a Greek one at Venice, drawings of both of which you will find in Pacciandi’s work with an ample description.”
Preparing Holy Water.

The corrupting presence of paganism is shown in the preparation of water for purification and for baptism quite as much as in its use. The following description is from Foy, Romish Rites, as quoted by Brock:

“It appears that there are three kinds of holy water, two of which are used for the consecration of churches. Of these two, the first is considered to be inferior, since nothing but salt is used in its preparation—‘salt exorcised for the salvation of those that believe.’ It serves for sprinkling the building. The other is made up by a mixture of salt, ashes, and wine—all blessed, of course. This appears to be the holier of the two, and is used for the consecration of the altar. The third class of holy water, that which is referred to above as being consecrated on ‘Holy[149] Saturday,’ is used for baptisms during the following year; and also, as I gather, for sprinkling generally. In its preparation—amid many exorcisms of devils and evil spirits, and forms of prayer—the following ceremonies are observed: The priest divides the water in the font with his hand, in the shape of a cross. In exorcising the water he touches it with his hand. In blessing it, he thrice makes over it the sign of the cross. In dividing it, he pours it toward the four quarters of heaven. He breathes thrice into it in the form of a cross. He lets down the great Paschal candle a little into it, and says: ‘The might of the Holy Ghost descend into this fountain—plentitude.’ In hanc plentitudinem fontis.

“Then he takes the candle from the water and again merges it more deeply, saying the same words as before, but in a higher tone. The third time he plunges it to the bottom, again repeating the formula with a still louder voice. Then blowing—sufflans—thrice into the water in the form of the Greek letter Psi, he says: ‘Impregnate with regenerating efficacy the whole substance of this water’; and so takes the candle out of the font. Besides these doings, various oils are poured into the water and mixed with the hand; and still more strange, spittle is mingled with it, as I have once seen with my own eyes in the grand baptistery at St. John Lateran in Rome.

“‘The might of the Holy Ghost descend into this fountain—plentitude, and impregnate with regenerating efficacy the whole substance of this water.’ Such is the spell. Exorcisms first chase all evil spirits from the water, then incantations and charms—dividings, oils, crossings, breathings, candle plungings, and other things—cause the might of the Holy Ghost to descend and impregnate the water[150] with regenerating efficacy. It is no longer ordinary water, such as that wherein the eunuch or Cornelius and his friends were baptized; but, by the power of charms, it has become an ecclesiastical compound, and those to whom it is administered are made new creatures and regenerate, not—so far as I understand—because they are brought by faith to Christ, but through the mere application of the fluid impregnated with virtue by an ecclesiastical process. And the only man who can make and apply this ‘Elixir of Life,’—of eternal life,—is the priest.”[140]
Sun-Worship and Water-Worship.

We have already shown that the sun-worship cultus and water-worship were united from the beginning. This union was made anterior to Grecian or Roman times, and much of the sacredness of water arose from it. Hislop describes this connection in the sanctifying of water, as follows:

“In Egypt, as we have seen, Osiris, as identified with Noah, was represented when overcome by his grand enemy, Typhon, or the ‘Evil One,’ as passing through the waters. The poets represented Semiramis as sharing in his distress, and likewise seeking safety in the same way. We have seen already that under the name of Astarte she was said to have come forth from the wondrous egg that was found floating on the waters of the Euphrates. Now, Manilius tells, in his Astronomical Poetics, what induced her to take refuge in these waters.[151] ‘Venus plunged into the Babylonian waters,’ says he, ‘to shun the fury of the snake-footed Typhon.’ When Venus Urania, or Dione, the ‘Heavenly Dove,’ plunged in deep distress into these waters of Babylon, be it observed what, according to the Chaldean doctrine, this amounted to. It was neither more nor less than saying that the Holy Ghost incarnate, in deep tribulation, entered these waters, and that on purpose that these might be fit, not only by the temporary abode of the Messiah in the midst of them, but by the spirit’s efficacy thus imparted to them, for giving new life and regeneration, by baptism, to the worshippers of the Chaldean Madonna. We have evidence that the purifying virtue of the waters, which, in pagan esteem, had such efficacy in cleansing from guilt and regenerating the soul, was derived in part from the passing of the mediatorial god, the sun-god, and god of fire, through these waters during his humiliation and sojourn in the midst of them; and that the Papacy at this day retains the very custom which had sprung up from that persuasion. So far as heathenism is concerned, the following extracts from Potter and Athen?us speak distinctly enough: ‘Every person,’ says the former, ‘who came to the solemn sacrifices [of the Greeks] was purified by water. To which end, at the entrance of the temples, there was commonly placed a vessel full of holy water.’ How did this water get its holiness? This water ‘was consecrated,’ says Athen?us, ‘by putting into it a Burning Torch taken from the Altar.’ The burning torch was the express symbol of the god of fire; and by the light of this torch, so indispensable for consecrating the ‘holy water,’ we may easily see whence came one great part of the purifying virtue of ‘the water of the[152] loud resounding sea,’ which was held to be so efficacious in purging away the guilt and stain of sin,—even from the sun-god having taken refuge in its waters. Now this very same method is used in the Romish Church for consecrating the water for baptism. The unsuspicious testimony of Bishop Hay leaves no doubt on this point. ‘It,’ [the water kept in the baptismal font] says he, ‘is blessed on the eve of Pentecost, because it is the Holy Ghost who gives to the waters of baptism the power and efficacy of sanctifying our souls, and because the baptism of Christ is with the Holy Ghost and with fire.’[141] In blessing the waters a Lighted Torch is put into the font.

“Here, then, it is manifest that the baptismal regenerating water of Rome is consecrated just as the regenerating and purifying water of the pagans was. Of what avail is it for Bishop Hay to say, with a view of sanctifying superstition and ‘making apostasy plausible,’ that this is done ‘to represent the fire of divine love, which is communicated to the soul by baptism and the light of good example, which all who are baptized ought to give.’ This is the fair face put on the matter; but the fact still remains that while the Romish doctrine in regard to baptism is purely pagan, in the ceremonies connected with the papal baptism one of the essential rites of the ancient fire-worship is still practised at this day, just as it was practised by the worshippers of Bacchus, the Babylonian Messiah. As Rome keeps up the remembrance of the fire-god passing through the waters and giving virtue to them, so when it speaks of the ‘Holy Ghost suffering for us in baptism,’ it in like manner commemorates the part which paganism assigned to the Babylonian goddess when[153] she plunged into the waters. The sorrows of Nimrod, or Bacchus, when in the waters, were meritorious sorrows. The sorrows of his wife, in whom the Holy Ghost miraculously dwelt, were the same. The sorrows of the Madonna, then, when in these waters, fleeing from Typhon’s rage, were the birth-throes by which children were born to God. And thus, even in the Far West, Chalchivitlycue, the Mexican ‘goddess of the waters’ and ‘mother’ of all the regenerate, was represented as purging the new-born infant from original sin, and ‘bringing it anew into the world.’”[142]

1. The worship of water as a divine element or agent, and hence its use as a protection against evil, and, in baptism, as a means of producing spiritual purity, forms a prominent feature of pagan religions.

2. Pagan water-worship was associated with the higher forms of sun-worship in various ways, and notably with that lower phase, Phallicism, with the obscene rites of which it is yet closely connected in India. In Mexico the cross was the special symbol of the water-worship cult.

3. In pagan water-worship the sacred fluid was applied in many ways—by immersion, by bathing, by sprinkling; in the latter use, the water was sprinkled upon the candidate from a sacred sprinkling-brush,[154] or from a bough of some sacred tree; it was sometimes poured upon the candidate from a cup made from the bark of a sacred tree; trine immersion appears in some instances. Inspiration was sought from sacred water, by drinking, by bathing, by sitting over it, and by inhaling its vapors.

4. Water for religious purposes was taken from sacred streams, fountains, and wells; or it was made holy by exorcisms and by the use of salt; it was carried to remote points and preserved for a long time. The ancient Druids caught rain-water in receptacles on the hill-tops and carried it to their altars through necessary aqueducts.

5. The fundamental errors of the pagan water-worship cult appeared in Western Christianity as early as the middle of the second century; this resulted in the baptism of the sick, baptism of infants, baptism for the dead, the delaying of baptism until the approach of death in order to make the most of both worlds, and the doctrine of penance to atone for sins committed after baptism; all these followed as a legitimate result.

6. As baptism was the door to Church membership, the Church was soon filled with “baptized pagans,” who were Christians in name only; by this means New Testament Christianity was rapidly perverted.


7. Whoever will seek the ultimate facts must confess that the Christianity of the third and the succeeding centuries was far removed from the New Testament standard. Protestants are returning to that standard all too slowly and unwillingly. Many are drifting farther away.

It is scarcely necessary to add that every form of baptism except submersion was borrowed from paganism; that faith in baptism as producing spiritual purity, and hence as a “saving ordinance,” was borrowed from paganism: the notion that only the baptized can be saved was borrowed from paganism; the use of oil, of spittle, of the sign of the cross, of lights, of white robes, is a remnant of paganism; baptising for the dead, and delaying baptism until near death, are a part of the pagan residuum; faith in water from the Jordan or elsewhere is paganism. The naming of children at baptism was a direct importation from paganism. In so far as any of these false elements are yet retained by Roman Catholics, Greeks, or Protestants, thus far does paganism dominate Christian thought and practice.

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