range. This abundance of information reduces the likelihood of distortions that might emerge by taking local debates (for example, those in fifth-century Gaul about ancestral sin, from which the terms of medieval Augustinianism derive) as good indicators for the primary concerns and interests of contemporary Christians at large. If instead we look to the range of sources, we encounter patristic views about human separation from, and reconciliation to, God that represent general trends.


Christians were far from innovative in attributing religious significance to ritual washing. Already in biblical purity laws, bathing is established for purification (e.g., at Leviticus 15.5,15). Ritual ablution for cleansing was practised at Qumran (see 'The community rule' (1QS) 3.5; cf. Josephus, Jewish War and the practice is already explicitly linked in the records of that community to initiation, purification and understanding ('Community rule' 4.21-2) - all elements that are retained and enlarged upon by Christians of our period. Other groups similarly valued ritual cleansing. Though we know rather less than one might like about the background of Mani, it is clear that he was reared in a baptising sect that claimed as one of its founders a certain Elchasai and that used baptism widely and frequently: according to the Cologne Mani-Codex, Mani took exception to their practice ofbaptisingtheir vegetables!2 Devotees of Eastern deities like Magna Mater, Cybele or Mithras also observed a cleansing ritual, already established in Rome during the Antonine period, that was called the taurobolium or criobolium (depending upon whether the sacrificial animal in whose blood the rite was performed was a bull or a goat). The initiate returned from the ceremony taurobolio criobolioq[ue] in aeternum renatus3 - but even so, for the scrupulous, the effects of the rite could be renewed after twenty years.4 In short, baptism was a custom observed by a variety of late ancient religious communities; it was therefore manifestly not a distinctively Christian rite.

Christians give baptism a distinctive character by presenting and interpreting it in terms of participating in the death of Christ. This connection is clearly

2 CMC 80.1-3, 80.23-82.23, 88.13-5;see further S. N. C. Lieu, Manichaeism in the later Roman empireandmedievalChina, 35-50, but also the note of caution sounded by G. P. Luttikhuizen, The revelation ofElchasai, 220-2.

3 'reborn for eternity by the taurobolium and the criobolium".

4 For epigraphic evidence, see CIL, vL.i: 97, 98 (items 510, 512); for a description of the Mithraic rite, see F. Cumont, Textes et monuments, i: 334-5. See also the various contributions in Ugo Bianchi and Maarten J. Vermaseren, eds., La soteriologia dei culti orientali.

0 0

Post a comment