Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

22. Carthage: Cyprian

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (c. 248-c. 258), was a major participant in three controversies in the third century related to baptismal practices: infant baptism, baptism administered by heretics or schismatics, and clinical or sickbed baptism. His position on the first two of these controversies will receive separate treatment in the two subsequent chapters. For this section we extract statements made in these controversies and elsewhere in his writings for the practice and doctrine of baptism at Carthage in the mid–third century. Cyprian’s information is consistent with that provided by Tertullian at the beginning of the century.1


Ceremony of Baptism

A catechumenate was in effect. Letters in the Cyprianic corpus make frequent reference to catecumini or audientes (hearers)2 and also refer to a teacher of catechumens3 and exorcists.4

Among the preliminaries to baptism there was a prayer or exorcism over the water. “If it is to be possible for water to clean away by its baptismal washing the sins of a person who is being baptized, then it is essential that the water should first be cleansed and sanctified by a bishop.”5 There was a prebaptismal renunciation of the

1. For the practices related to baptism see Victor Saxer, Vie liturgique et quotidienne a Carthage vers le milieu du IIIe siècle (Vatican: Pontificio istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1969), pp. 106–144.

2. Cyprian, Letters 8 (2).3.1 (from the Roman clergy to the Carthaginian clergy); 18 (12).2.2; 29 (23); 73 (72).22.1-2.

3. Letters 29 (23); 73 (72).3.2 (doctor).

4. Letters 69 (75).15.2. There are general references to exorcism in To Donatus (Letter 1) 5; To Demetrianus 15; Judgments of 87 Bishops 8 (Crescens — “first exorcized” and then baptized); 37 (Vincent — a laying on of hands in exorcism).

5. Cyprian, Letters 70 (69).1.3, a letter from a council of thirty-two North African bishops, of

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