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

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

24. The Controversy over “Rebaptism”
in the Third Century

A sharp controversy erupted in the mid–third century over whether the church should accept baptisms administered by heretics and schismatics. The principals in that controversy were Stephen, bishop of Rome (254-257), and Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (248-258), but behind them was a period of time in which different practices had developed.


Early Statements

Clement of Alexandria had declared “heretical baptism” to be “no proper and genuine water.”1 Tertullian said that what heretics “do not have in the right form [rite], without doubt they do not have it [baptism] at all.”2 Since theirs was not the “one baptism,” presumably converts from a heretical body would have been baptized according to the ceremony of the church. Although Tertullian does not say this expressly here, it is strongly implied and may have been stated in what he says he had written in Greek (not preserved).

Hippolytus reports among his charges against Callistus that “Under him, a second baptism

was for the first time presumptuously attempted by them.”3 This is a puzzling statement, for the tradition of the Roman church not many years later (see below) opposed a second baptism or rebaptism of converts from heretical and schismatic bodies. It may be that Hippolytus is speaking metaphorically of Callistus’s policy of granting forgiveness and reconciliation to those guilty of serious sin, a policy that Hippolytus disapproved. In the next section of the Refutation of All Heresies Hippolytus takes up the Elchasaites, who did practice a second baptism

1. Miscellanies 1.19.96.3-4.

2. On Baptism 15.2.

3. Refutation of All Heresies 9.12 (7).25.

-380-

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