Questions about baptism in the early church

Hello, I’ve recently read that until about 400 A.D. baptism was postponed until adulthood or until the death bed. I have a few questions:

  1. Did early Christians receive Communion? I always thought baptism was necessary to receive other sacraments.
    2)When did infant baptism become common?
  2. Did early Christians believe in originals sin? If they did I’m sure they’d be quick to have their children baptized.
  3. Was postponing baptism encouraged by the Church (Popes, bishops, etc.) or was baptizing immediately?

Thanks

Occasionally some people didn’t get baptized until late in life, but the Church has baptized infants from the beginning. You might like this article:

Early Teachings on Infant Baptism
web.archive.org/web/20110604014657/http://www.catholic.com/library/Early_Teachings_of_Infant_Baptism.asp

It contains writings from nine early Christians between and 189 A.D. and 416 A.D. about baptizing babies.

I have a few questions:

  1. Did early Christians receive Communion? I always thought baptism was necessary to receive other sacraments.

The only early Christians who received Communion were the baptized. Those who had not yet been baptized remained in a separate section of the Church which was designated for “Observers.”

I think that was the term they used. If I remember right, the early churches had three sections: one for Communicants, one for Penitents, and one for Observers. Everyone in the Communicants section had to be baptized and be living a Christian life. People in the Penitents section had recently confessed a mortal sin but were still doing penance, because in those times you did not ordinarily get absolution until you completed your penance. And people in the Observers section were non-baptized believers who were waiting for various reasons.

2)When did infant baptism become common?

The link I gave you above shows that infant baptism was common from the beginning, but not everybody wanted to be baptized right away. I think St. Augustine’s mother did not baptize him when he was an infant because she wanted him to get baptized after his teenaged years, when she expected him to fall into great sexual sins. Maybe she figured she had better postpone his forgiveness until he had committed all his sins? :shrug: Anyway, Augustine said he wished she had baptized him as an infant because then maybe he would have had the grace to avoid those sins.

  1. Did early Christians believe in originals sin? If they did I’m sure they’d be quick to have their children baptized.

Yes, here are some quotes from the early Fathers on original sin:

Eastern Fathers who Taught Original Sin Before Augustine (And Western Ones)
historyandapologetics.com/2015/02/eastern-fathers-who-taught-original-sin.html

  1. Was postponing baptism encouraged by the Church (Popes, bishops, etc.) or was baptizing immediately?

Tertullian is the only early Christian who I’ve read who encouraged postponing baptism: “According to circumstance and disposition and even age of the individual person, it may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children…[except] if it be…a case of necessity…” source

Tertullian is, btw, technically not a Church Father, since he left the Catholic Church around 200 A.D.

  1. Yes, early Christians received communion. But to be a Christian you had to be baptized, therefore only baptized persons received communion.

  2. As far as we can tell, there was always infant baptism. In Acts we read of entire households being baptized. Presumably children under the age of reason were included in those households.

Paul, in Col. 2:11-12, relates baptism to circumcision. If he’d not meant for infants to be baptized he wouldn’t have equated it to a Jewish rite that normally took place at the age of eight days.

  1. Not sure about the history of development of the theology of Original Sin. Peter preached in Acts 2:38-39: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you** and to your children** and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him”

  2. There were actually debates in the early Church about withholding infant baptism until the eighth day! The Council of Carthage, in 253, finally condemned the opinion that baptism should be withheld from infants until the eighth day after birth.

There’s a good tract on infant baptism by Jimmy Akin on this website at catholic.com/tracts/infant-baptism.

I think that if you were a Catechumen you were baptised when you had completed the catechumenate sufficiently. If you were communicating and you had babies, they got baptised because you could instruct them as they grew. If you were fresh to the Christian faith but Jewish, the catechumenate was very short because it was taken that you already had knowledge of the Old Testament (but I am not sure up to what date that would have been the case).

Hi Trying,

I have a few thoughts on the subject of infant baptism and its acceptability, but I’d first like to know why it is that you’re asking this line of questions (just to see if what I have to say is something that will answer your concerns)

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