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Tertullian on Baptism

The Lord be with you

tertullian1Tertullian (160-230), sometimes called the First Latin Father, is not recognized on any liturgical calendar of which I know. This is probably because he was opposed to widows being allowed to remarry or because he condemned believers who fled persecution (both of which the church allowed). Nonetheless, he was the first to use the term “Trinity” in Latin (the Greek Church already had the term), and gave us the Latin phrase “tres personae, una substantia” (three persons, one substance), also taken from the Greek. He was a prolific author from Carthage. The following quote is from his book, On Baptism.

[In the sacrament of baptism] the hand is laid on us, invoking and inviting the Holy Spirit through benediction. This is derived from the old sacramental rite in which Jacob blessed his grandsons, born of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh; with his hands laid on them and interchanged [Gen. 48:13], and indeed so transversely slanted one over the other, that, by delineation Christ, they even portended the future benediction into Christ. Then, over our cleansed and blessed bodies willingly descends from the Father that Holiest Spirit. Over the waters of baptism, the Spirit reposes, who glided down on the Lord in the shape of the dove, in order that the nature of the Holy Spirit might be declared by means of the emblem of simplicity and innocence, because even in its bodily structure the dove is without gall. And accordingly Jesus says, “Be innocent as doves.”

Even this is not without the supporting evidence of a preceding figure. For just as, after the waters of the deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged—after the baptism, so to say, of the world—a dove was the herald which announced to the earth the assuagement of celestial wrath, when it had been sent its way out of the ark, and had returned with the olive-branch, a sign which even among the nations is the foretoken of peace; so by the selfsame law of heavenly effect, to earth—that is, to our flesh—it emerges from the font, after its old sins, flies the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens, where is the church, the typified ark.

Source: For All the Saints, volume 2, year 1 (297-298)

Blessings in Christ,

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