Having called attention in preceding articles to the views of the church father, Tertullian, with respect to the question of infant baptism, we wish to conclude this particular phase of the question of infant baptism by calling attention to the views of Origin and Cyprian, two of the most prominent men among the early church fathers.
With respect to Origin, considered the most brilliant of the early church fathers, we merely wish to remark that he definitely calls infant baptism a usage derived from the apostles and therefore sanctioned this Christian practice. In fact, infant baptism was considered to be a usage derived from the apostles in many large sections of the Church already during the third century. Already then the appeal was made to the rite of infant baptism as customary. This implies that already then it was recognized as a custom.
Cyprian certainly maintained the sacrament of infant baptism. He believed that baptism should be administered to children as early as possible; it should not even be delayed until the eighth day as some in the African church would have it on the basis of a comparison with the rite of circumcision in the Old Dispensation—we recall that the law in the Old Testament required the circumcision of all male children upon the eighth day. The following quotation from this eminent church father, concerning the baptism of infants, should be of interest: “But in respect to the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council (Cyprian refers here to a church council which was attended by sixty-six dignitaries of the churches—H.V.) For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. For as the Lord says in His gospel, “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them,” as far as we can, we must strive chat, if possible, no soul be lost, For what is wanting to him who has once been formed in the womb by the hand of God? To us, indeed, and to our eyes, according to the worldly course of days, they who are born appear to receive an increase. But whatever things are made by God, are completed by the majesty and work of God their maker. Moreover, belief in divine Scripture declares to us, that among all, whether infants, or those who are older, there is the same equality of the divine gift. Elisha, beseeching God, so laid himself upon the infant son of the widow, who was lying dead, that his head was applied to his head and his face to his face, and the limbs of Elisha were spread over and joined to each of the limbs of the child, and his feet to his feet. If this thing be considered with respect to the inequality of our birth and our body, an infant could not be made equal with a person grown up and mature, nor could its little limbs fit and be equal to the larger limbs of a man: But in that is expressed the divine and spiritual equality that all men are like and equal, since they have been once made by God; and our age may have a difference in the increase of our bodies, according to the world, but not according to God; unless that very grace also which is given to the baptized is given either less or more, according to the age of the receivers, whereas the Spirit is not given with measure, but by the love and mercy of the Father alike to all. For God, as He does not accept the person, so does not accept the age; since He shows Himself a Father to all with well-weighed equality for the attainment of heavenly grace. For, with respect to what you say, that the aspect of an infant in the first days after its birth is not pure, so that any one of us would still shudder at kissing it, we do not think that this ought to be alleged as any impediment to heavenly grace. For it is written, “To the pure all things are pure.” Nor ought any of us to shudder at that which God hath condescended to make. For although the infant is still fresh from its birth, yet it is not such that any one should shudder at kissing it in giving grace and in making peace; since in the kiss of an infant every one of us ought, for his very religion’s sake, to consider the still recent hands of God themselves, which in some sort we are kissing, in the man lately formed and freshly born, when we are embracing that which God has made. For in respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage; but when Christ came, it was fulfilled in truth. For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us. For which reason we think that no one is to be hindered from obtaining grace by that law which was already ordained, and that spiritual circumcision ought not to by hindered by carnal circumcision, but that absolutely every man is to be admitted to the grace of Christ, since Peter also in the Acts of the apostles speaks, and says, “The Lord hath said to me that I should call no man common or unclean.” But if any think he could hinder men from obtaining grace, their more heinous sins might rather hinder those who are mature and grown up and older. But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted—and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace—how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another. And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to be observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, in the very beginning of their birth,, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat. We bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.”—end of quote.
In connection with this rather lengthy quotation of the learned and eminent Cyprian, we wish to make a few observations. In the first place, the thought has probably occurred to us that this eminent church father certainly must have entertained an Arminian conception of the love and grace of the Lord. He writes, does he not, that “by us no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all.” We cannot declare with certainly at this time whether this learned leader of the early Christian Church believed in a general love and mercy of the Lord and therefore in a desire of God to save all men. We realize that such a conception of the general love and mercy of the Lord, as revealed by the Lord in connection with the baptism of infants, is entertained today by the Liberated who advocate that the sacrament of baptism is a sign and seal by the Lord of His promise to every child who is baptized, and that this sign and seal is bestowed upon each child in His mercy and love. But we are not prepared to say whether also Cyprian believed in that general love and mercy of the Lord. We do well to bear in mind, and none, I am sure, will dispute this statement, that the knowledge of the Scriptures was certainly and, necessarily limited during the New Testament infancy of the Church of God. However, the statement which we have quoted from the writings of Cyprian does not necessarily proclaim and teach a general love and mercy of the Lord. The possibility exists that the infants must not be deprived of the sacrament of baptism inasmuch as the Lord is merciful and kind and loving to all ages, and therefore also as including the ages of infants. In the second place, it did not escape our attention, I am sure, that Cyprian, also in this particular quotation, lays great stress and emphasis upon the sacrament of baptism. He writes, for example, and we again quote: “But we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man . . . . The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them; as far as we can we must strive that, if possible, no soul be lost . . . . And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God.” One can hardly escape the conclusion, when reading these passages of these leaders of the Church of God that the early church fathers certainly ascribed great significance to the sacrament of baptism, connecting with it the grace of God. In fact, one gains from Cyprian the idea that the sacrament of baptism is indispensable unto salvation, that every effort must be put forth to baptize the child as soon as possible because it must be our striving that, if possible, no soul be lost; yea, they speak of regeneration and the second birth in connection with this sacrament. In the third place, it also appears from this quotation of Cyprian that he seeks the ground for infant baptism in the innocence of the infants. This appears from the following remarks in this quotation, and again we quote: “But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted . . . how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born, after the flesh according to Adam . . . . that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.” Hence, whereas Tertullian regarded the innocence of infants as an argument to reject the baptism of infants, Cyprian uses or sees in this innocence an argument to reject the baptism of infants, Cyprian uses or sees in this innocence an argument to substantiate the baptism of infants. And, finally, this eminent church father urges that infants be baptized as soon as possible and that the Church of God should not wait until the eighth day according to the practice in the Old Dispensation when the sign of circumcision was administered to all the male children upon the eighth day. And it is not difficult to understand how the Romish Church, especially in the light of what one may read in the writings of such an eminent church father as this Cyprian, should advocate the administration of the sacrament of baptism to the children as soon as possible. Neither, is it difficult why children as soon as possible. Neither is difficult to see why the Romish Church, also in the light of what these church fathers wrote on the significance of infant baptism, should ascribe to this sacrament the significance which it does. The church fathers certainly laid great stress upon this sacrament. This can hardly be denied.