The passage where re-birth is best put forward in connexion with baptism is Luke iii. 22, where ancient texts, including the Gospel of the Hebrews, read, "Thou art my beloved Son, this day have I begotten Thee." These words were taken in the sense that Jesus was then re-born of the Spirit an adoptive Son of God and Messiah; and with this reading is bound up the entire adoptionist school of Christology. It apparently underlies the symbolizing of Christ as a fish in the art of the catacombs, and in the literature of the 2nd century. Tertullian prefaces with this idea his work on baptism. Nos pisciculi secundum ιχθυν nostrum Jesum Christum in aqua nascimur. "We little fishes, after the example of our Fish Jesus Christ, are born in the water." So about the year 440 the Gaulish poet Orientius wrote of Christ; Piscis natus aquis, auctor baptismatis ipse est. "A fish born of the waters is himself originator of baptism."
But before his time and within a hundred years of Tertullian this symbolism in its original significance had become heretical, and the orthodox were thrown back on another explanation of it. This was that the word ιχθυσ is made up of the letters which begin the Greek words meaning "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour." An entire mythology soon grew up around the idea of re-birth. The font was viewed as the womb of the virgin mother church, who was in some congregations, for example, in the early churches of Gaul, no abstraction, but a divine aeon watching over and sympathizing with the children of her womb, the recipient even of hymns of praise and humble supplications. Other mythoplastic growths succeeded, one of which must be noticed. The sponsors or anadochi, who, after the introduction of infant baptism came to be called god-fathers and god-mothers, were really in a spiritual relation to the children they took up out of the font. This relation was soon by the canonists identified with the blood-tie which connects real parents with their offspring, and the corollary drawn that children, who in baptism had the same god-parent, were real brothers and sisters, who might not marry either each the other or real children of the said god-parent. The reformed churches have set aside this fiction, but in the Latin and Eastern churches it has created a distinct and very powerful marriage taboo.
10. Relation to Repentance. - Baptism justified the believer, that is to say, constituted him a saint whose past sins were abolished. Sin after baptism excluded the sinner afresh from the divine grace and from the sacraments. He fell back into the status of a catechumen, and it was much discussed from the 2nd century onwards whether he could be restored to the church at all, and, if so, how. A rite was devised, called exhomologesis, by which, after a fresh term of repentance, marked by austerities more strict than any Trappist monk imposes on himself to-day, the persons lapsed from grace could re-enter the church. In effect this rite was a repetition of baptism, the water of the font alone being omitted. Such restoration could in the earlier church only be effected once. A second lapse from the state of grace entailed perpetual exclusion from the sacraments, the means of salvation. As has been remarked above, the terror of post-baptismal sin and the fact that only one restoration was allowable influenced many as late as the 4th century to remain catechumens all their lives, and, like Constantine, to receive baptism on the deathbed alone.
The same scruples endured among the medieval Cathars. (See Penance and Novatianus.)
11. Baptism for the Dead. - Paul, in 1 Cor. xv. 29, glances at this as an established practice familiar to those whom he addresses. Three explanations are possible: (1) The saints before they were quickened or made alive together with Christ, were dead through their trespasses and sins. In baptism they were buried with Christ and rose, like Him, from the dead. We can, therefore, paraphrase v. 29 thus: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for their dead selves?" etc. It is in behalf of his own sinful, i.e. dead self, that the sinner is baptized and receives eternal life. (2) Contact with the dead entailed a pollution which lasted at least a day and must be washed away by ablutions, before a man is re-admitted to religious cult. This was the rule among the Jews. Is it possible that the words "for the dead" signify "because of contact with the dead"? (3) Both these explanations are forced, and it is more probable that by a make-believe common in all religions, and not unknown in the earliest church, the sins of dead relatives, about whose salvation their survivors were anxious, were transferred into living persons, who assumed for the nonce their names and were baptized in their behalf, so in vicarious wise rendering it possible for the sins of the dead to be washed away.
The Mormons have this rite. The idea of transferring sin into another man or into an animal, and so getting it purged through him or it, was widespread in the age of Paul and long afterwards. Chrysostom says that the substitutes were put into the beds of the deceased, and assuming the voice of the dead asked for baptism and remission of sins. Tertullian and others attest this custom among the followers of Cerinthus and Marcion.
12. Use of the Name. - In Acts iv. 7, the rulers and priests of the Jews summon Peter and inquire by what power or in what name he has healed the lame. Here a belief is assumed which pervades ancient magic and religion. Only so far as we can get away from the modern view that a person's name is a trifling accident, and breathe the atmosphere which broods over ancient religions, can we understand the use of the name in baptisms, exorcisms, prayers, purifications and consecrations. For a name carried with it, for those who were so blessed as to be acquainted with it, whatever power and influence its owner wielded in heaven or on earth or under the earth. A vow or prayer formulated in or through a certain name was fraught with the prestige of him whose name it was. Thus the psalmist addressing Jehovah cries (Ps. liv. 1): "Save me, O God, by Thy name, and judge me in Thy might." And in Acts iii. 16, it is the name itself which renders strong and whole the man who believed therein. In Acts xviii. 15, the Jews assail Paul because he has trusted and appealed to the name of a Messiah whom they regard as an overthrower of the law; for Paul believed that God had invested Jesus with a name above all names, potent to constrain and overcome all lesser powers, good or evil, in heaven or earth or under earth.