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

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

36. Cappadocia: Basil the Great

The three major Cappadocian theologians — Basil the Great, his friend Gregory of Nazianzus, and his brother Gregory of Nyssa — have much in common in their teaching about baptism as in other things, but I will discuss them separately so as to detect their individual nuances. By the latter third of the fourth century the delay of baptism was a problem, so all three (along with others) preached exhortations to baptism that are rich sources of information for the practice and especially the theology of baptism.1 These sermons will be drawn on in each chapter for the preachers’ general baptismal teaching and in chapter 39 for their information on sickbed or deathbed baptism.

Basil was a presbyter from about 362 and bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia from 370 to 379. From him, in addition to his Homily 13, Exhortation to Baptism (PG 31.423-444), we have another work, On Baptism, and important references to baptism in On the Holy Spirit and in several of his Letters.2

1. Everett Ferguson, “Exhortations to Baptism in the Cappadocians,” Studia patristica 32 (1997): 121-129.

2. For Basil’s Exhortation see my “Basil’s Protreptic to Baptism,” in John Petruccione, ed., Nova & Vetera: Patristic Studies in Honor of Thomas Patrick Halton (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1998), pp. 70–83; J. Gribomont, “Saint Basile: Le Protreptique au Baptême,” in G. J. Békés and G. Farnedi, eds., Lex Orandi Lex Credendi: Miscellanea in onore di P. Cipriano Vagaggini (Rome: Anselmiana, 1980), pp. 71–92, who dates the work to January 7, 371 or 372. Translations from this work (Exh.) are my own, but there is also an English translation by Thomas Halton in André Hamman, ed., Baptism: Ancient Liturgies and Patristic Texts (Staten Island: Alba House, 1967), pp. 75– 87. Quotations from On Baptism (Bapt.) follow M. Monica Wagner, Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, Fathers of the Church 9 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1950), pp. 339–430; critical edition (adopting Neri’s text [below] with small changes) and French translation by J. Ducatillon, Basile de Césarée, Sur le baptême, Sources chrétiennes 357 (Paris: Cerf, 1989) — pp. 46–56 on the treatise’s baptismal doctrine. Questions about this work’s authenticity are resolved in its favor by U. Neri, Basilio di Cesarea, Il battesimo: Testo, traduzione, introduzione e commento (Brescia, 1976), esp. pp. 31–53. The translation of On the Holy Spirit and the Letters is that of Blomfield Jackson in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (repr. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Second Series, Vol. 8.

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