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baptised.21 This practice was enshrined in the decision of the first Council of Arles (314/15) that neither schism nor heresy invalidates a properly executed baptism, by which is understood a baptism with the Trinitarian formula in keeping with Matthew 28.19.22 That council itself, and indeed the conventional Latin approach generally, may be attributed to a distinctively Roman response to imperial persecution, wherein ritual purity and contamination figured very prominently. Confronted with the claims that a compromised church infects its adherents through the very rituals that are meant to save them,23 Augustine came to affirm that any Trinitarian baptism is in itself holy because Christ is at work in it, irrespective of the sins of the ministering clergy.24 (Here, as often, Augustine's view is not idiosyncratic: a similar perspective on Christ himself performing the baptism is attested in Greek and Syriac sources.)25 This claim does not imply that any baptism whatever will lead to salvation, for schismatic or heretical coteries cannot effectively promote and sustain the Christian life. Nevertheless, Augustine's insistence that baptisms in such communities are to be respected was widely accepted by Western Christians. Fulgentius of Ruspe carried forward this line of thinking when he called 'repeated baptism' a 'great crime' worthy of tears, even while rejecting the possibility that a schismatic or heretical baptism can ultimately lead to salvation.26

Alongside this emphasis on right belief came an equally strong emphasis on right behaviour. John Chrysostom tirelessly preached the need (even

21 Thus, Pope Stephen (as cited by Cyprian, Letter 73.1 (CSEL 32: 778-9)) maintained that the traditional discipline in such cases was the laying on of hands and pointedly not a baptism.

22 Canon 8 (in P. Labbé and N. Coleti, eds., Sacrosancta concilia, 1:1451-2).

23 Thus, the Donatist perspective (see Augustine, Against the letter ofParminian 2.5.10-13.27 (CSEL 51: 55-79)) - which can profitably be compared to the letters of Cyprian, as cited above; see further J. P. Burns, Cyprian the bishop.

24 Augustine, Against the letter ofPetilian 2.37.88 (CSEL 52: 73-4); On baptism 4.12.18, 5.4.4 (CSEL 51: 244, 265-6); cf. Tractates on John 5.18, 6.7 (CCSL 36: 51, 57): 'those whom Judas baptises, Christ baptises'; 'if Peter should baptise, it is [Christ] who baptises; if Paul should baptise, it is he who baptises; if Judas should baptise, it is he who baptises'. See also Optatus' Against the Donatists 5.6.1-7.13 (SC 413:140-50). Augustine's perspective on baptism is well presented in terms of his understanding of Christian society by Carol Harrison, Augustine, 144-57.

25 E.g., Chrysostom, Hom. in Matt 50.3 (PG 58: 507): 'when you are baptised, it is not he [sc., the clergyman] who baptises you, but God who holds your head with invisible power'; Baptismal homilies 2.10 (SC 50: 138-9, trans. ACW 31: 46-7): 'For it is not a man who does what is done, but it is the grace ofthe Spirit which sanctifies the nature ofthe water and touches your head together with the hand of the priest.' Cf. too Theodore of Mopsuestia, Cat. hom. 14.15 (ST 145: 432) and three West Syriac commentaries studied by Brock ('Some early Syriac baptismal commentaries', §xiv, at 42-3).

26 Fulgentius, On the forgiveness of sins 1.22.1 and On the faith 43-4 (CCSL 91a: 671, 740-2).

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  • LARRY
    When Peter baptises, it is Christ who baptises ... When Judas baptises, it is Christ who baptises...?
    3 years ago

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