John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom in Hagia Sophia

This post is part 3 of a series which began with
Baptised in Paul’s Name (Part 1) and
Baptised in Paul’s Name (Part 2)

I feel like I need to restate each time – this study is not advocating for a change from our ecumenically-agreed practice of baptising with a verbal, formulaic proclamation “…in the Name of the Father, and of the Son,…”. This study is simply saying that we have not always baptised like this. We did not baptise like this in the New Testament period. We did not baptise like this in the Early Church.

Jesse helpfully wrote:

J. D. C. Fisher reports that the “passive” Trinitarian formula used in the East is attested at least as early as one of John Chrysostom’s baptismal catecheses (delivered at Antioch in 390).

I set myself the challenge that ” It would be fun to look at that late-fourth-century catechesis (in the original).”

And, I found what I was looking for. It is in St John Chrysostom’s Second Baptismal Instruction, specifically section 26:

Καὶ ἵνα μάθῃς καὶ ἐντεῦθεν ὡς μία ἡ οὐσία Πατρὸς καὶ Υἱοῦ καὶ ἁγίου Πνεύματος, οὕτω καὶ ἡ τοῦ βαπτίσματος γίνεται παράδοσις.
Ἐπιφωνοῦντος γὰρ τοῦ ἱερέως·
«Βαπτίζεται ὁ δεῖνα εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος», τρίτον τὴν κεφαλὴν καθίησι καὶ ἀνίησι, διὰ τῆς μυστικῆς ταύτης τελετῆς τὴν τοῦ Πνεύματος παρασκευάζων ἐπιφοίτησιν δέξασθαι.

And in order that you (singular) might learn also that the substance of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is one, Baptism is bestowed by the priest saying loudly (Ἐπιφωνοῦντος): “So-and-so (δεῖνα) is baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Three times the head is lowered…

Here is where I might upset people.

So, at the end of the fourth century, we have the first evidence, at the liturgy of baptism, of saying aloud: “…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But, I am going to claim that we are still reading this text of 390 AD anachronistically.

Yes, the priest says these words loudly – I can make no other interpretation of Ἐπιφωνοῦντος, can you?

But we currently, East and West, have an understanding of the words “…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as being required to be said aloud in this manner in order to have a valid baptism.

My contention is that there is no evidence in John Chrysostom’s text that he views it in this way at all.

I am going to make my case with reference to the NZ Anglican baptismal rite. At the moment of baptism for each individual, the people proclaim aloud: “God receives you by baptism into the Church.”

Now, no one would see these particular words as being essential for the validity of baptism. The words were there in 1987 but not in 1976 or previously. Nor are they found in the way others do baptism in other places.

But, you can imagine that people might come to really like these particular words – and the practice of saying them, at the moment of baptism, could spread to other traditions and other places.

That is what I am suggesting is a better way to see the words in John Chrysostom’s homily. These were words (“So-and-so is baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”) that people appreciated being proclaimed at the moment of baptism. We have already shown they were not used in the New Testament period nor in the earliest church. There is no evidence of them being used elsewhere at the end of the fourth century. There is certainly no suggestion that they are the “form” of baptism (a 13th century concept) nor that they are a requirement for the baptism to be “valid”. All that would come later.

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