Baptism Essay, Research Paper
A Sacred Bath, Baptism
For hundreds of years baptism has been a large part of many different religions. Although throughout history, and throughout many religions, the practice might have differed, but the meaning and the symbolism has remained relatively the same. The word baptism came from the Greek noun baptiona, meaning, ?the dipping or washing.? Less commonly used, baptiomo?s, stemmed from the verb baptw, meaning, ?to dip or immerse.? This act of washing or immersion started with the Greeks and was later practiced by other religions. Religions such as those in the Pagan world, the Attis and Mathra cults, the Arians, the Babylonians, Egyptian cults, the cult of Cybele, the Mithraic cult, and Christian religions practiced what can be refereed to as the sacred bath, the enlightenment, or the rebirth. Many of the pre-Christian religions understood cleansing and verification in a magical sense, rather than in a moral, or spiritual sense. As baptism evolved through the centuries, it went through many changes and through many different interpretations of how baptism should take place and when in a lifetime the baptism should take place. One thing remains the same though, baptism is a sacred act and has been practiced throughout time.
Baptism received its beginning in the Greek world. That thought of immorality associated with baptism was what created this practice. We have proof of baptism through records of old. According to the Cretan funeral tablets, baptism was associated with the spring of Mnemasyne (memory) (Eliade 59). A bath in the sanctuary of Traphomias procured for the initiate a blessed immorality even while in the world. Also in the Greek world there was a bath in the sea in which the initiation?s rites of the great Eleusinian mysteries began was simply a physical purification, and it was accompanied by the sacrifice of a piglet (Eliade 59). The Greek world practiced this ritual of immersion and sacrifice as a way of becoming immortal and god like, and as a result, other religions in many places followed.
Different places produced different practice and also set some different tradition. In Babylon, according to the Tablets of Maklu, water was important in the cult of Enki, lord of Eridu. In Egypt, the (Book of Going Forth by Day (17)) contains a treatise on the baptism of the newborn to cleanse them of impurities or blemishes in the womb. Also in Egypt there was an idea of regeneration through water and some other groups Egypt practiced baptism through the soaking of ones self from the blood of a bull. In the area around the Nile, the Nile?s cold water was thought to have regenerative powers, used to baptize the dead in a ritual based on the Osiris myth. Baptism of the dead can also be found in the Mandaeans and a similar rite on the Orphic Tablets. In Israel and in the area around Jordan the baptism ritual took shape through submersion into water.
As location and belief held tradition and spiritual rituals, different groups arose, and baptismal traditions began to take shape. From the Greek practices of baptism followers of the goddess Cotyto, became known baptai, (?the baptized ones?). Also following Greek period came the Pagan world and their traditions. The Pagan world used the waters of the Ganges in India, the Euphrates in Babylonia, and the Nile in Egypt for their sacred baths. This group, also know as the Hellenistic mystery cult, believed that divine water possessed a real power of transformation. The genostic with baptism ?knows why he has come into existence while others don?t know why or whence they are born? (Corpus Hermeticum 1:4.4). Other Egyptian cults also saw the idea of regeneration through water. The bath of the cult of Isie was most likely intended to represent symbolically the initiate?s death to the life of this world. . In the Attis, and Mithra cults, and also in the Cult of Cybele, a baptism in the form of a blood bath from a bull was practiced. In this practice they believed that they received a new birth in Eternity (renatus in acternum). In the Pagan world there was a two-fold effect that was given to these baths. One was a cleansing from ritual and moral impurities that could be washed away. The second is the bestowal of immorality and increase of vital strength. With the Thorak, baths were for the renewal of various kinds of ritual impurities. This ritual would take place after someone was cured of leprosy, if someone contracted personal uncleanness, or after touching a corpse.
Within Judaism, the general custom of washing and the simple purification bath was called proselyte baptism. This type of baptism was given for the Gentile converts. There were three parts to this ritual. First the convert was to be circumcised, next was baptism, and the last part was sacrifice. Baptism came seven days following the circumcision, and the baptism took place in a manner of nakedness in a pool of flowering water. They believed that when the convert arose, he would be a true son of Israel. After the baptism, the newly inducted Israelite was allowed to the sacrifices in the Temple. Through circumcision and baptism, a non-Jew became a full-fledged Israelite. This baptism developed under the influence of Hellel and stressed the importance of a new birth.
As John the Baptist came onto the scene and was baptized in the Jordan River, he made a clear separation from the official practices of old. This event was a sign of divine pardon instead of the unification with the Israelite community. Following John in his ways was the Mandaeans. They also baptized in the Jordan River but the baptism was followed by a sacred meal where a blessing was given to bread and water mixed with wine. This substance was look upon as the substance of the divine being. When being baptized, they saw that the white garment would symbolize purity and cleanliness.
While this conversion from the Jewish way of baptism took place, the Eixesaites abolished fire as the patriarchal sacrifice and substituted for it a baptism by water, which remits sin and brings the neophytes into a new religion (Eliade 61). They, in flowering water, after invocations to the earth, air, oil, and salt, also were seen as a method of physical healing.
At about this time in the changing of baptismal practice came the early Christian Church. Leading the way was John the Baptist, the Disciples, and later the Apostles. When John baptized Jesus, a whole new realm of baptism arose. As the bible tells, the disciples were later given the mission of baptizing in the name of the Trinitarian faith. As a result of this the Apostles deemed it necessary of an inner conversion to focus on the new belief that one might have chosen. The Apostle Paul was first to define the theological and symbolic significance of what he recognized as Christian baptism. In (Romans 6: 3-4) the joining of the neophyte?s ritual submersion into water was to be related to Christ?s death and rebirth to a new and spiritual life through his resurrection. Through immersion, the believer was able to participate in a new existence (Col. 2:12). In (Titus 3:5) it says, ?A bath of regeneration and renewal was a gift.? It also says, ?the baptismal water is at once the water of death in which the old, sinful man is immersed and the water of life from which he immerges renewed.? Through this baptism, the Christian which emerges is like a little child (I Pt. 2:2). Then and today, baptismal practices are founded on the commandment of Jesus himself to his disciples (Mathew 28:19)
In the 1st century church, baptisms would be held on Easter night or on Pentecost, and was limited to bishops, the heads of the community. Also with the Neophytes, they waited until death because they were afraid that the full consequences of inner conversion would be too much to handle. In the later church, baptism was recognized as the divine light to participate in eternal life while still on earth (Eliade 61).
Surrounding the Christian faith, around the 4th century, Anonoeans, (Arianism) began to reject the triple immersion. Because of this rejection, and disagreement with the baptismal formula spelled out in the scriptures, and the Catholic baptism, the Arian people were required to be rebaptized. They also believed that those outside their religion could not baptize their people, only those of the religion could baptize within that religion.
The Catholics and some theologists had different views on practices of baptism. In the Dictionary of Religion, the Catholic view was spelled out directly. The Catholic view which was of a rite which works, which confers a character on the recipient, and which is valid even if administered in hersy or shism. An infant baptism would become the norm with theology of original sin around the 11th or 12th century, displacing the common practice of delaying baptism until ones death bed (Bowker, 125). Later in the 16th century, such reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Anabaptists modified that theology. Luther said, ?baptism with justification by faith alone, baptism as a promise of divine grace of then which a person?s sins are no longer imputed to him or her.? Zwingli saw baptism, ?only as the admission into the Christian Community.? Calvin proclaimed, ?only in effect for the elect, who have faith.? Anabaptists responded, ?a response of faith on the part of the individual to the Gospel, rejecting infant baptism.? These different opinions differed from that of the Catholic Church, and baptism still remained interpreted in many different ways, just like the period before John the Baptist and Jesus.