Including an Investigation of the History of Baptism in England from the earliest period to which it can be traced to the close of the seventeenth century
By Joseph Ivimey
London: Printed for the Author
A.D. 45 - 1180
It is generally supposed, that the gospel was introduced at a very early period into this country, which, at the commencement of the Christian era, was, like other heathen nations, full of the habitations of cruelty. Our forefathers were, if their own historians may be credited, gross idolaters, and were accustomed to offer up their prisoners taken in war, as sacrifices to their gods. It is said, they made a statue, or image of a man of a prodigious size, whose limbs consisted of twigs woven together after the manner of basketwork; this they filled with living men, and setting it on fire, burned them to death!
There are different opinions respecting the time when the gospel was first preached in Britain, and also by whom the message of salvation was at first proclaimed. Bishop Newton says, "There is some probability that the gospel was preached here by Simon the apostle; there is much greater probability that it was preached here by St. Paul; and there is absolute certainty that Christianity was planted here in the times of the apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem."
Tacitus says, that "Pomponia Greaecina, wife of Pautius, and Claudia Ruffina, a British lady, are supposed to be of the saints that were in Caesars household, mentioned by Paul, Phil. 3:22." Pautius was in Britain, A.D. 45: it is probable, Claudia may have returned with him; and it has been thought, from this statement of Tacitus, that this lady was the first British christian. Claudia is celebrated by Martial for her admirable beauty and learning, in the following epigram;
"From painted Britons how was Claudia [2 Tim. 4:21] born!
The fair barbarian! how do arts adorn!
When Roman charms a Grecian soul commend,
Athens and Rome may for the dame contend." [Rapin, vol. i, p. 14]
Speed, a very ancient British author, says, that Claudia sent Pauls writings, which he calls spiritual manna, unto her friends in Britain; to feed their souls with the bread of life: and also, the writings of Martial, to instruct their minds with those lessons best fitting to produce moral virtues:" which Speed thinks was the occasion of this line in Martials works--
"And Britain now (they say) our verses learn to sing." [p. 73]
Gildas, the most ancient and authentic British historian, who wrote about A.D. 564, in his book called De Vict. Aurelli Ambrossii, affirms, that the Britons received the gospel under Tiberius, the emperor under whom Christ suffered; and that many evangelists were sent from the apostles into this nation, who were the first planters of the gospel, and which, he elsewhere says, continued with them until the cruel persecution of Dioclesian the emperor, about A.D. 290.
Fuller, in his Ecclesiastical History, says, "It is generally agreed, that about the year 167, many pagan temples in Britain had their property altered, and that they were converted into Christian churches; particularly that dedicated to Diana in London, and another near it formerly consecrated to Apollo, in the city now called Westminster." [Ecclesiastical History, Book 1. p. 13]
This account is corroborated by Fox, the English martyrologist, who says, "Out of an ancient book of the antiquities of England, we find the epistle of Eleutherius, written to Lucius king of Britain, A.D. 169, who had written to Eleutherius for the Roman laws to govern by: in answer to which, Eleutherius says, You have received, through Gods mercy, in the realm of Britany, the law and faith of Christ; you have with you both the parts of the scripture; out of them, by Gods grace, with the council of your realm, take ye a law, and by that law, by Gods sufferance, rule your kingdom of Britain." [Fuller, v. i. 117]
Hollingsworth mentions this epistle of Eleutherius, in such language as proves him to have understood the genuine principles of the gospel [Fuller, v. i. p. 25]; and speaks highly respecting king Lucius; of whom there is a curious piece of information on a brass plate in the church of St. Peters, Cornhill. This plate is included in an antique frame of oak, and relates as follows:
"Bee it knowne to all men that in the yeare of our Lorde God 179, Lucius the first Christian king of this Land, then called Britaine, Founded the first church in London: that is to say, the church of St. Peter upon Cornehill: and hee founded there an Archbishops See, and made that Church the Metropolitane and chiefe Church of this Kingdome, and so it endured the space of 400 yeares and more unto the coming of St. Austin the apostle of England. The which was sent into this land by St. Gregorie the Doctor of the Church in the time of King Ethelbert: And then was the Archbishops See and Pall removed from the foresaid Church of St. Peter upon Cornehill unto Dorobernia, that now is called Canterburie, and there it remaineth to this day, and Millet a Monke which came into this land with St. Austin, Hee was made first Bishop of London, and his See was made in Pauls Churche, and this Lucius King was the first founder of St. Peters Church upon Cornehill, and hee reigned King in this Land after Brute 1245, Yeares. And in the yeare of our Lorde God 124, Lucius was crowned King, and the yeares of his reigne were 77 yeares and hee was buried (after some Chronicles) at London: and after some Chronicles hee was buried at Glocester, in that place where the Order of St. Francis standeth now."
From the conversion of Lucius till the time of the persecution under Dioclesian, the ecclesiastical history of Britain is entirely unknown. That the Christian religion, however, made great progress during that interval of eight years, seems probable from Tertullian, Origen, Bede, and Gildas.
After Christianity was established by Constantine the great, it appears that Christians multiplied exceedingly, and that the island abounded with churches. This celebrated emperor being a native of Britain, as was also, according to Bishop Stillingfleet and some others, Helene, his mother, it is highly probable that he showed particular favour to his countrymen, by affording them his protection. Speed says, "Constantine the great was born and brought up here in Britain by queen Helene, a most virtuous and religious lady; unto whose days the succession of Christianity did here continue as by the martyrdom of many saints in the reign of Dioclesian, is apparent." [p. 77]
Some affirm there were British bishops at the council of Nice, A.D. 325. But though this cannot be fully proved, it is not at all unlikely, since twenty-two years after, there were certainly three British bishops at the council of Arles, who are supposed to have been those of London, York, and Caer-leon in Wales. There were also some at the council of Arminum in 359; but so poor, that their charges were borne by their brethren. Du Pin says, "The bishops of France and Britain chose rather to bear their own expences than accept of the emperors allowance, which they thought it beneath them to do." [Rapins History of England, p. 29]
About the year 448, the Saxons began to settle in Britain; and for more than a century were perpetually harassing the natives, till they forced them to retire from their country, and settle in Wales. Their cruelties are described in a very affecting manner by Bede and Gildas, the latter of whom says, "From the east to the west nothing was to be seen but churches burnt and destroyed to their very foundations. The inhabitants were extirpated by the sword, and buried under the ruins of their own houses. The altars were daily profaned by the blood of those slain thereon." [Rapin, p. 44] It is very unaccountable, that after this statement, he should blame the Britons for suffering their neighbours to live so long in paganism. How was it possible that they could, with any prospect of success, attempt to convert them, by whom they were so cruelly treated, and who were endeavouring to exterminate them?
After they were driven into Wales, whither their invaders could not follow them, religion began again to flourish. Two large societies were formed; one at Bangor in the north, the other at Caer-leon in the south. From the following account, it should seem that these institutions resembled that now formed by the Baptist missionaries at Serampore, where one fund is established, from which the wants of all, however differently engaged, are supplied.
Danvers informs us, that "In Bangor was a college containing 2100 Christians, who dedicated themselves to the Lord to serve him in the ministry as they became capable, to whom was attributed the name of the monks of Bangor. Yet did they no ways accord with the popish monks of that or the following age? for they were not reduced to any ecclesiastical order, but were for the most part laymen, who laboured with their hands, married and followed their callings: only some of them, whose spirits the Lord fitted and inclined to his more immediate service, devoted themselves to the study of the scriptures, and other holy exercises, in order, to the work of the ministry, who sent out many useful instruments." [Danvers, History of Baptism, p. 336]
In this state was religion in Wales, when Austin the monk was sent into England by Gregory the seventh, bishop of Rome, with the design of converting the Saxons, or English and bringing them into conformity to the church of Rome. To accomplish this, "Gregory ordered him not to pull down the idol temples, but convert them into Christian churches. The reason of this injunction was this; that the natives, by frequenting the same temples they had been always accustomed to, might be the less shocked at their entrance into Christianity: and therefore his Holiness directed that the idols should be destroyed, and those places of worship sprinkled with holy water." [Biog. Brit. Art. Augustin]
This was in the year 596, when Ethelbert was king of Kent. At his court, Augustin opened his mission, which was attended with such success, that the king, and his queen Bertha, and a great number of his subjects, very soon made a public profession of Christianity. The king was so zealous a convert, that he bequeathed his own palace to the church, and retired to Reculver, that Austin might be more at his ease at Canterbury. Notwithstanding all these favours, and the princely style in which he lived, this pious apostle could enjoy no content while the British clergy lived independent of his authority, and were not in a state of subjection to the bishop of Rome.
Independently, therefore, of the desire which Austin had to diffuse the knowledge of the gospel in general, we find he was particularly zealous for his own authority, and extremely desirous to subject the British Christians in the remote parts of the island to his metropolitan jurisdiction, and to the doctrine and discipline of the church of Rome. This circumstance is the more remarkable, as the British bishops of that age had more enlarged views of things; accordingly they disclaimed all submission to the church of Rome, and nobly asserted their independence.
The account of a conference which Austin held with some of the Christians of the college of Bangor, is thus related by Robert Fabian:
"By the helpe of Ethelberte he assembled and gathered the byshoppes, and doctours of Britayne that were before disparkled. The place of Assemble was called long after, Austins Oke; which is expounded to be Austeyns strengthe, and is in the march of Wikeres and of the west Saxons. In this place he charged the sayd bishoppes, that they should with him preach the worde of God to the Anglis; and also that they should amonge themselves amend certain errours, tehn used in the churche: and specially for kepeing of their Easter tide, wher against the byshoppes of Britayne held opinion til Austanye shewed them a myracle by a blind Anglis or Saxon. After the which myracle shewed, the sayd byshoppes replied to the will of Austanye in that cause. But for all this, there was of them that said, that they might not leave the custome which they so longe had continued, without assente of all such as had used the same. Then he gathered a synode, to the which came seven byshoppes of Brytons with the wysest men of that famous abbey of Bangor. But first, they took counsel of an holy man, wher they should be obediente to Austanye or not. And he said, if ye find him humble, or meke, as to Christes disciple belongeth; that then they should asent to him, which mekenes they shoude perceave in him, if he at their coming into the synode, or councell, arose agayne them. When the sayde bishops entered the sayd synode, Austain sat styl in the chaire, and removed not: whereupon they were wroth and disdayned him and would not obey his requestes.
"He then sayd, Sins ye wol not asent to my hestes generally assent ye to me specially in iii things.
"The first is, that ye kepe Ester in due fourme and time as it is ordayned. The second, THAT YE GIVE CHRISTENDOME TO CHILDREN. And the thyrde is, that ye preache unto the Anglis the worde of God as aforetimes I have exhorted you. And all the other deale, I shall suffer you to amend and refourm within yourselves: but they would not thereof.
"Then Austayne sayd unto them, and warned them by manner of inspyration, That since they wold not receave peace of theyr brethren, they shoulde of other receave warre and wretche: the which was after put in experience by Ethelfridus King of Northumberland." [Fabians Chron. part v. p. 115,116]
Nicholson, in his English Historical Library, after exposing some pious frauds, says, "Bedes account of the remonstrance of Dinoth, abbot of Bangor, against the pretensions of this legate Augustine, challenging a supremacy for his master, is of better credit. The critique of Bishop Stillingfleet on it deserves attention. "There is (he says) all the appearance of ingenuity and faithfulness that can be expected; and he [Bede] was a person of too great judgment and sagacity to be easily imposed upon by a modern invention, or a new formed schedule."
This account is confirmed by other ancient writers. Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us, that "in the country of the Britons Christianity flourished, which never decayed even from the apostles time; amongst whom, says he, was the preaching of the gospel, sincere doctrine, and living faith, and such form of worship as was delivered to the churches by the apostles themselves; and that they even to death withstood the Romish rites and ceremonies; and that as long as the British churches possessed the country, they kept themselves sound in the faith, and pure in the worship, order, and discipline of Christ, as it was delivered to them from the apostles and evangelists." [Danvers, p. 334]
Fuller, in his Ecclesiastical History [Book ii, p. 69], has translated some verses of the ancient bard, Talliessyn, recorded in the chronicle of Wales; which show how much they opposed Romish innovations.
"Wo be to the priest
That will not cleanly weed his corne
And preach his flock among;
Wo be to that shepherd, I say,
That will not watch his fold always,
As to his office doth belong.
Wo be to him that doth not keep,
From Romish wolves his sheep,
With staff and weapon strong."
Rapin is of opinion, that Austin died before the dreadful massacre of the Britons took place, but not till after he had baptized 10,000 Anglis in the river Swale, at the mouth of the Medway, on a Christmas day. Others think this was performed by Paulinas.
The account Fabian gives of the destruction of the Britons and of the monastery of Bangor is confirmed by Humphrey Lloyd, the learned Welch antiquary in his Breviary of Britain. "In Denbighshire (says he) near the castle of Holt, is seen the rubbish and reliques of the monastery of Bangor, while the glory of the Britons flourished: in the same were 2,000 monks very well ordered and learned, divided into seven parts, daily serving God; amongst whom those that were simple and unlearned, by their handy labour, provided meat and drink and apparel for the learned and such as applied themselves to their studies; and if any thing was remaining, they divided it among the poor. That place sent forth many hundred of excellent well learned men; amongst whom it also vomited forth to the world Pelagius. And afterward by the envy and malice of Austin, that arrogant monk, and the most cruel execution of his minister Ethelfrid, those worthy men were destroyed, the whole house from the very foundation, together with the library more precious than gold, was razed down, and demolished by fire and sword: and hence it is manifest, that this bloody massacre of those glorious witnesses for Christ did arise from their Christian courage and zeal against those antichristian impositions of the Romish church." [Danvers, p. 336]
It is probable that after this the Romish pontiff obtained the sovereign dominion in ecclesiastical affairs, as we find that Ina, one of the kings of the West Saxons, in the seventh century passed a law--"That every family possessed of goods to the value of twenty pence, should pay one penny a year to blessed St. Peter, and the church of Rome. He also prescribed a penalty for deferring the baptism of infants beyond thirty days, and a much greater when any died unbaptized." [Toulmins History of Taunton, p. 6] This tax continued to be paid for several centuries, and was known by the name of Peters pence.
From these few, but valuable fragments of the ancient Britons, we discover much of the genuine simplicity of Christianity. Making the scriptures the only rule of their faith and practice, they easily discovered the antichristian spirit of Austin, and the folly of those ceremonies which he strove to introduce. It is not at all wonderful, therefore, that they should refuse to give christendom to children, as they could find nothing in the scriptures to countenance such an opinion.
It is proved by Dr. Gill, that infant baptism, for the purpose of taking away original sin, had been enforced by anathemas in the Milevitan council about two centuries before; and it is also known that Gregory the great, who sent Austin into England, had decreed as follows: "Let all young children be baptized as they ought to be, according to the tradition of the fathers." [Fox, vol. i. p. 130]
From this decree being expressed in such general terms, infants not being particularly mentioned, we account for the difficulties which Austin himself had on the subject soon after he came to Britain. Among other interrogatories proposed to Gregory, is the following respecting children; "Lest they should be prevented by death, after how many days ought they to receive baptism?" To which Gregory replied, "If present necessity, arising from fear of death, doth so require, we do not forbid an infant to be baptized the same hour in which it is born." It is hardly conceivable that this question could have been proposed, had the practice of infant baptism been of apostolic origin, or if the English had not made some objections against it. This remark is further corroborated by a circumstance mentioned by Hogo Grotius in his Commentary on Matt. xix. 14. "It is no small evidence (says he) that Infant baptism was not usually practised in the Greek church during many centuries, because not only Constantine the great, the son of Helene, who was a zealous Christian, was not baptized till he was of an advanced age; but that also Gregory Nazianzen, who was the son of a Christian bishop, and brought up for a long time by him, was not baptized till he came to years." If it be admitted that Infant baptism was then unknown in Britain, Constantines not being baptized in his infancy is easily accounted for: but upon no other principle can we account for this omission of his godly parents, which Fox says they were.
In order to obtain as much light as possible on this very interesting subject, we subjoin the following statement of Dr. Calamy, the celebrated writer on Nonconformity, who in a work entitled, "Gods concern for his glory in the British isles," has paid considerable attention to this subject. He relates, from Gildas, "That Christ shewing his bright light to all the world, afforded his rays, that is, his precepts, in the latter end of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when his religion was propagated without any hindrance." On this statement of Gildas, the Doctor remarks,
"If he meant this, of the publication of the gospel in Britain, which has been the most prevailing opinion, we must allow him to have had better advantages for knowing this with certainty then, than we have at this distance. According to this account, this island had Christianity preached in it within five years of our Saviours crucifixion, which was very early, perhaps too early, all circumstances considered, for a place that lay so remote. All ancient writers, however, agree, that Christianity was planted in this land very soon, considering its distance from Judea.
"It is evident, that after Christianity obtained here, a great part of the inhabitants still continued pagans, and yet our holy religion made a progress. As it got ground, the temples of their ancient idols were some of them destroyed, and others of them dedicated to the true and living God. We have no account of such severities here in the primitive times against the followers of a crucified Jesus, as in other countries. That which was the last of the ten persecutions under the Roman emperors, seems to have been the first that affected this island. But in the general calamity, in the reign of Dioclesian and Maximian, about 303, the Christians here were very great sufferers. It is said, that Maximian almost rooted out the Christian religion from Britain, and that they who suffered martyrdom were almost beyond number. Gildas tells us, that their churches were thrown down, and all the books of holy scriptures that could be found, were burnt in the streets; and the chosen priests of the flock of our Lord, together with the innocent sheep, murdered. St. Alban of Verulam, and Julius of Carlisle upon Usk in Monmouthshire, and many others, sealed the truth with their blood.
"But when the storm was over, which did not last much above a year, the Christians here, as well as in other parts, fled out of the woods and dens and caves, where they had hid themselves, and rebuilt their demolished churches, and flourished to a great degree, both in peace and unity. They were much favoured by Constantius, the father of Constantine, who continued for the latter part of his lfie here in Britain, and would suffer no man to die for his religion in his dominions. It was here also that Constantine himself, who was a native of this island, first declared himself a Christian, or inclined that way, which it is not likely he would have publicly done, had not a good part of his army been of that religion; and upon his advancement to the imperial throne, it is not to be wondered at, if more splendour attended Christainity as it was here professed, than had been known before. But I have not, upon the strictest inquiry I have been able to make, hitherto been able to discern sufficient ground to apprehend, that from the beginning, churches or places of worship were so nobly adorned, or church government so modelled in this island, as some time after; or that the prelatical form of government was any part of that glory that was at first declared in this island.
"Britain (adds the Doctor) was also sadly infested with the Picts and Scots, which after various struggles, when no more help could be had from the Romans, was the occasion of calling in the Saxons to their assistance. These Saxons, whom Gildas calls, A nation odious to God and man, came hither to be a scourge to the Britons, about the year of Christ 450. They were at first received as guests, and treated as stipendiaries, in opposition to the barbarians; but at length found themselves strong enough to set up for masters, laid the whole country waste, drove the old British Christians into the barren mountains of Wales, and occasioned such confusion and desolation, as Gildas, who wrote a few years after, thought could never be enough lamented. That writer describes their cruelties, and the judgment of heaven upon a sinful people, which they were the instruments of inflicting, in such a manner, as must needs affect all that read his account. He says, that all the towns, with the beating of the rams, and all the townsmen, pastors, priests and people, with naked swords that glittered on all sides, and crackling flames, were together whirled to the ground. And our historians say, that they scarcely left the face of Christianity where they prevailed. And yet pure religion was not even then extirpated from the island.
"Bede, who wrote his history about the year 731, gives us a great deal of light, though allowance must be made for his being himself a Saxon, and not very friendly to the British churches, and for his having a monastic tincture. Christianity, in a new edition of it, with great improvements as to outward pomp, was during this period received from Rome, through the hands of Austin the monk, about the year 598. But there was a purer Christianity in the island before, that was much freer from adulterations and corruptions than that which was now introduced under the same name. There were great contests between those of the old stamp, and those of the new. The former lived in Wales and Scotland, and the latter in the heart of the country. So that there were considerable debates on foot of this island, between Conformists and Nonconformists, in ancient as well as in modern times; and the one sort were apt to carry it with a high hand, and the other forced to be satisfied with the consciousness of their own integrity then as well as now. The Conformists then were, in all things, for the methods of the church of Rome; and the Nonconformists were for the ways and methods of the ancient Christains, and disowned impositions. They were called too, the Schismatics of Britain and Ireland; because they would not receive the Romish alterations, nor submit to the authority by which they were imposed.
"In the year 601, Austin called a synod, to which the bishops or doctors of the next province of the Britons were summoned, in which the abbot of Bangor gave him a free answer to his deamnd of conformity to Rome. He told him that the ancient Christians of this island were obedient and subject to the church of God, and to the pope of Rome, and every godly Christian; to love every one in his degree, in perfect charity; and to help every one of them by word and deed, which were the children of God: And other obedience than this he knew not to be due to him whom he called the pope, etc. Many of the poor monks, not long after, lost their lives in return for this freedom and resolution." [Dr. Calamy, "Gods concern for his glory in the British isles"]
Having related the great contest respecting Easter, Dr. Calamy thus proceeds; "It ought not to be forgotten that the difference between these old Conformists and Nonconformists did not lie only in the time of keeping Easter: They differed also about baptism. For that was one of the three things which Austin insisted on in his conversation with the British doctors; that they should for the future administer baptism after the manner of the church of Rome, which is an argument they did use to do so before."
Fearing, as it should seem, that this candid statement would make an impression on the minds of his readers, that these ancient British Nonconformists were also Baptists, the doctor proceeds to make some comments upon it "Wherein the difference," says he, "between the old Britons and the Romans properly lay about baptism, is not so evident. Pits frankly owns he did not know what it was. Nor does Bede explain it, nor any of our ancient writers that I have conversed with. Some have thought they differed about the subjects of baptism; and that whereas the Romans baptized infants, the Britons were against infant baptism; and an argument has been drawn from thence by the Anti-pedobaptists. But an answer is returned to it by Dr. Wall, in his History of Infant Baptism, where he says that Pelagius being a native of Britain, his declaring he never heard of any Christian, catholic, or sectary, that denied infant baptism, is a good evidence that his countrymen did not do it. It seems more likely that this difference should have been about the mode of baptism; and the very words of Austin, as Bede relates the matter, seem to look that way. For he would have them administer baptism, for the future, after the manner of the church of Rome. Now I know nothing so remarkable (continues Dr. Calamy,) in the manner of baptizing in the church of Rome at that time, as the trine immersion. That this was customary in that church is asserted by Walafridus Strabo; and though we have no positive evidence that I know of, that a single immersion, or aspersion, or pouring of water, was used among the ancient Britons in their baptism; yet till something else is mentioned, with a surer appearance of probability, I am inclined to believe this was the matter of that part of the difference."
This interesting statement by Dr. Calamy, and his reflections upon it, require some animadversion.
He acknowledges, that there is no positive evidence that the Britons used single immersion, aspersion, or pouring, in their baptism; but takes it for granted that one of these must have been the mode, in order to justify the alteration proposed by Austin. But why does he speak of aspersion, and of pouring? We know from incontrovertible evidence, that they used immersion. Austin baptized in a river; "where," says Mr. Fox, "note by the way, gentle reader, at that time there could be no use of fonts." Immersion, therefore, being the mode then used, it should seem, according to the foregoing hypothesis, that the point at issue between Austin and the Britons was, whether baptism should be performed by a single or a trine immersion. This hypothesis, however, is inadmissible, being as improbable as it is unsupported. But let it be admitted that Austins proposal was to baptize infants, after the manner of the church of Rome, instead of baptizing adults on a profession of faith; and then the proposition will, on the one hand, be suitable for the popes legate to make, as an indispensable requisite to a union with the catholic church, which could not exist without it; and, on the other hand, it will appear to be an absurdity so great, that primitive Christians could not submit to it, without a sacrifice of principle and of conscience, to which even death itself was preferable.
[Note: It appears obvious from the very face of Austins request to the British Christians that he was urging them to adopt infant baptism. He requested three things, the second of which was "that ye give Christendom to children." That request would have made no sense had the British Christians been in the custom of baptizing infants by any mode whatsoever. D.W. Cloud]
The only objection which Dr. Calamy makes to this is, a partial quotation from Dr. Wall. But if the whole of what the latter says had been stated, it would have appeared that this objection had no weight. The words of Pelagius, as translated by Dr. Wall, are, "That men do slander him, as if he denied the sacrament of baptism to infants, and did promise the kingdom of heaven to any persons without the redemption of Christ, which he had never heard, no not even any impious heretic or sectary say." By these words, it is true, Dr. Wall understands Pelagius to mean, "that he had never heard of any Christian, catholic or sectary, that denied infant baptism." But does Pelagius mean this? I think not. His meaning seems to have been, that he had never heard, no, not even any impious heretic or sectary say, that the kingdom of heaven could be obtained without the redemption of Christ. The suspicion of his denying infant baptism seems to have arisen from his denying original sin; for the church of Rome had appointed infant baptism, to wash away original sin, and had decreed that without it none could be saved.
This misapprehension of Pelagius by Dr. Wall is the only thing which has been made use of to disprove the opinion of the Baptists, that the ancient British christians were of similar sentiments with themselves.
If Austins proposal to the British christians was, that they should give christendom to children after the manner of the church of Rome, I should understand it to mean that they should christen children, as the church of Rome did. But the words, "after the manner of the church of Rome," are not in the copy of Fabian at the London institution: the proposition of Austin is there said to have been, that they should give christendom to children. Dr. Wall indeed says that the proposition as he has related it is in a copy of Fabian at Oxford; and he also represents Mr. Wills as saying that Fabian professes in his preface to have copied it from Bede, though the doctor adds that he had not seen it. There is, however, an internal evidence, that the proposition respected the subjects of baptism, and that the words, "after the manner of the church of Rome," were added by the historian, or by some one of his copiers, and did not constitute a part of the original proposition. For if the original proposition had only respected a mode of baptism, why should any thing have been said concerning the subjects of it? It had been sufficient to have proposed to give christendom after the manner of the church of Rome, without saying anything about giving it to children. Whereas if the difference between the church of Rome and the British churches respected the subjects of baptism, and the proposition was that christendom should be given to children, it was natural for the historian to add that this was after the manner of the church of Rome.
To conclude; till something better be offered to disprove our inference from the above-mentioned premises, that these primitive Christians knew nothing of infant baptism, we shall continue to consider them, as being in sentiment and practice, what our opponents call us--Antipedobaptists.
Previous | Home | Next