Baptism, or purification from sin by water, is supposed by many to be an exclusive Christian ceremony. The idea is that circumcision was given up, butbaptism took its place as a compulsory form indispensable to salvation, and was declared to have been instituted by Jesus himself or by his predecessor John.[316:1] That Jesus was baptized by John may be true, or it may not, but that he never directly enjoined his followers to call the heathen to a share in the privileges of the Golden Age is gospel doctrine;[316:2] and this saying:
“Go out into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature. And whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved, but whoever believes not shall be damned,”
must therefore be of comparatively late origin, dating from a period at which the mission to the heathen was not only fully recognized, but even declared to have originated with the followers of Jesus.[316:3] When the early Christians received members among them they were not initiated by baptism, but with prayer and laying on of hands. This, says Eusebius, was the “ancient custom,” which was followed until the time of Stephen. During his bishopric controversies arose as to whether members should be received “after the ancient Christian custom” or by baptism,[316:4] after the heathen custom. Rev. J. P. Lundy, who has made ancient religions a special study, and who, being a thorough Christian writer, endeavors to get over the difficulty by saying that:
“John the Baptist simply adopted and practiced the universal custom of sacred bathing for the remission of sins. Christ sanctioned it; the church inherited it from his example.”[316:5]
When we say that baptism is a heathen rite adopted by the Christians, we come near the truth. Mr. Lundy is a strong advocate of the type theory—of which we shall speak anon—therefore the above mode of reasoning is not to be wondered at.
The facts in the case are that baptism by immersion, or sprinkling in infancy, for the remission of sin, was a common rite, to be found in countries the most widely separated on the face of the earth, and the most unconnected in religious genealogy.[317:1]
If we turn to India we shall find that in the vast domain of the Buddhist faith the birth of children is regularly the occasion of a ceremony, at which the priest is present. In Mongolia and Thibet this ceremony assumes the special form of baptism. Candles burn and incense is offered on the domestic altar, the priest reads the prescribed prayers, dips the child three times in water, and imposes on it a name.[317:2]
Brahmanism, from the very earliest times, had its initiatory rites, similar to what we shall find among the ancient Persians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Mr. Mackenzie, in his “Royal Masonic Cyclopædia,” (sub voce “Mysteries of Hindustan,”) gives a capital digest of these mysteries from the “Indische Alterthum-Skunde” of Lassen. After an invocation to the SUN, an oath was demanded of the aspirant, to the effect of implicit obedience to superiors, purity of body, and inviolable secrecy. Water was then sprinkled over him, suitable addresses were made to him, &c. This was supposed to constitute theregeneration of the candidate, and he was now invested with the white robe and the tiara. A peculiar cross was marked on his forehead, and the Tau cross on his breast. Finally, he was given the sacred word, A. U. M.[317:3]
The Brahmans had also a mode of baptism similar to the Christian sect of Baptists, the ceremony being performed in a river.
The officiating Brahman priest, who was called Gooroo, or Pastor,[318:1] rubbed mud on the candidate, and then plunged him three times into the water. During the process the priest said:
“O Supreme Lord, this man is impure, like the mud of this stream; but as water cleanses him from this dirt, do thou free him from his sin.”[318:2]
Rivers, as sources of fertility and purification, were at an early date invested with a sacred character. Every great river was supposed to be permeated with the divine essence, and its waters held to cleanse from all moral guilt and contamination. And as the Ganges was the most majestic, so it soon became the holiest and most revered of all rivers. No sin too heinous to be removed, no character too black to be washed clean by its waters. Hence the countless temples, with flights of steps, lining its banks; hence the array of priests, called “Sons of the Ganges,” sitting on the edge of its streams, ready to aid the ablutions of conscience-stricken bathers, and stamp them as white-washed when they emerge from its waters. Hence also the constant traffic carried on in transporting Ganges water in small bottles to all parts of the country.[318:3]
The ceremony of baptism was a practice of the followers of Zoroaster, both for infants and adults.
M. Beausobre tells us that:
“The ancient Persians carried their infants to the temple a few days after they were born, and presented them to the priest before the sun, and before the fire, which was his symbol. Then the priest took the child and baptized it for the purification of the soul.Sometimes he plunged it into a great vase full of water: it was in the same ceremony that the father gave a name to the child.”[318:4]
The learned Dr. Hyde also tells us that infants were brought to the temples and baptized by the priests, sometimes by sprinkling and sometimes by immersion, plunging the child into a large vase filled with water. This was to them a regeneration, or a purification of their souls. A name was at the same time imposed upon the child, as indicated by the parents.[318:5]
The rite of baptism was also administered to adults in the Mithraic mysteries during initiation. The foreheads of the initiated being marked at the same time with the “sacred sign,” which was none other than the sign of the CROSS.[319:1] The Christian Father Tertullian, who believed it to be the work of the devil, says:
“He BAPTIZES his believers and followers; he promises the remission of sins at the sacred fount, and thus initiates them into the religion of Mithra; he marks on the forehead his own soldiers,” &c.[319:2]
“He marks on the forehead,” i. e., he marks the sign of the cross on their foreheads, just as priests of Christ Jesus do at the present day to those who are initiated into the Christian mysteries.
Again, he says:
“The nations who are strangers to all spiritual powers (the heathens), ascribe to their idols (gods) the power of impregnating the waters with the same efficacy as in Christian baptism.” For, “in certain sacred rites of theirs, the mode of initiation is by baptism,” and “whoever had defiled himself with murder, expiation was sought in purifying water.”[319:3]
He also says that:
“The devil signed his soldiers in the forehead, in imitation of the Christians.”[319:4]
And St. Augustin says:
“The cross and baptism were never parted.”[319:5]
The ancient Egyptians performed their rite of baptism, and those who were initiated into the mysteries of Isis were baptized.[319:6]
Apuleius of Madura, in Africa, who was initiated into these mysteries, shows that baptism was used; that the ceremony was performed by the attending priest, and that purification and forgiveness of sin was the result.[319:7]
The custom of baptism in Egypt is known by the hieroglyphic term of “water of purification.” The water so used in immersion absolutely cleansed the soul, and the person was said to be regenerated.[320:1]
They also believed in baptism after death, for it was held that the dead were washed from their sins by Osiris, the beneficent saviour, in the land of shades, and the departed are often represented (on the sarcophagi) kneeling before Osiris, who pours over them water from a pitcher.[320:2]
The ancient Etruscans performed the rite of baptism. In Tab. clxxii. Gorius gives two pictures of ancient Etruscan baptism by water. In the first, the youth is held in the arms of one priest, and another is pouring water upon his head. In the second, the young person is going through the same ceremony, kneeling on a kind of altar. At the time of its baptism the child was named, blessed and marked on the forehead with the sign of the cross.[320:3]
Baptism, or the application of water, was a rite well known to the Jews before the time of Christ Jesus, and was practiced by them when they admitted proselytes to their religion from heathenism. When children were baptized they received the sign of the cross, were anointed, and fed with milk and honey.[320:4] “It was not customary, however, among them, to baptize those who were converted to the Jewish religion, until after the Babylonish captivity.”[320:5] This clearly shows that they learned the rite from their heathen oppressors.
Baptism was practiced by the ascetics of Buddhist origin, known as the Essenes.[320:6] John the Baptist was, evidently, nothing more than a member of this order, with which the deserts of Syria and the Thebais of Egypt abounded.
The idea that man is restrained from perfect union with God by his imperfection, uncleanness and sin, was implicitly believed by the ancient Greeks andRomans. In Thessaly was yearly celebrated a great festival of cleansing. A work bearing the name of “Museus” was a complete ritual of purifications. The usual mode of purification was dipping in water (immersion), or it was performed by aspersion. These sacraments were held to have virtue independent of the dispositions of the candidates, an opinion which called forth the sneer of Diogenes, the Grecian historian, when he saw some one undergoing baptism by aspersion.
“Poor wretch! do you not see that since these sprinklings cannot repair your grammatical errors, they cannot repair either, the faults of your life.”[321:1]
And the belief that water could wash out the stains of original sin, led the poet Ovid (43 B. C.) to say:
“Ah, easy fools, to think that a whole floodOf water e’er can purge the stain of blood.”
These ancient Pagans had especial gods and goddesses who presided over the birth of children. The goddess Nundina took her name from the ninth day,on which all male children were sprinkled with holy water,[321:2] as females were on the eighth, at the same time receiving their name, of which addition to the ceremonial of Christian baptism we find no mention in the Christian Scriptures. When all the forms of the Pagan nundination were duly complied with, the priest gave a certificate to the parents of the regenerated infant; it was, therefore, duly recognized as a legitimate member of the family and of society, and the day was spent in feasting and hilarity.[321:3]
Adults were also baptized; and those who were initiated in the sacred rites of the Bacchic mysteries were regenerated and admitted by baptism, just as they were admitted into the mysteries of Mithra.[321:4] Justin Martyr, like his brother Tertullian, claimed that this ablution was invented by demons, in imitation of thetrue baptism, that their votaries might also have their pretended purification by water.[321:5]
Infant Baptism was practiced among the ancient inhabitants of northern Europe—the Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Icelanders—long before the first dawn of Christianity had reached those parts. Water was poured on the head of the new-born child, and a name was given it at the same time. Baptism is expressly mentioned in the Hava-mal and Rigs-mal, and alluded to in other epic poems.[322:1]
The ancient Livonians (inhabitants of the three modern Baltic provinces of Courland, Livonia, and Esthonia), observed the same ceremony; which also prevailed among the ancient Germans. This is expressly stated in a letter which the famous Pope Gregory III. sent to their apostle Boniface, directing him how to act in respect to it.[322:2]
The same ceremony was performed by the ancient Druids of Britain.[322:3]
Among the New Zealanders young children were baptized. After the ceremony of baptism had taken place, prayers were offered to make the child sacred, and clean from all impurities.[322:4]
The ancient Mexicans baptized their children shortly after birth. After the relatives had assembled in the court of the parents’ house, the midwife placed the child’s head to the east, and prayed for a blessing from the Saviour Quetzalcoatle, and the goddess of the water. The breast of the child was then touched with the fingers dipped in water, and the following prayer said:
“May it (the water) destroy and separate from thee all the evil that was beginning in thee before the beginning of the world.”
After this the child’s body was washed with water, and all things that might injure him were requested to depart from him, “that now he may live again and be born again.”[322:5]
Mr. Prescott alludes to it as follows, in his “Conquest of Mexico:”[322:6]
“The lips and bosom of the infant were sprinkled with water, and the Lord was implored to permit the holy drops to wash away that sin that was given to it before the foundation of the world, so that the child might be born anew.” “This interesting rite, usually solemnized with great formality, in the presence of assembled friends and relations, is detailed with minuteness by Sahagun and by Zuazo, both of them eyewitnesses.”
Rev. J. P. Lundy says:
“Now, as baptism of some kind has been the universal custom of all religious nations and peoples for purification and regeneration, it is not to be wondered at that it had found its way from high Asia, the centre of the Old World’s religion and civilization, into the American continent. . . .
“American priests were found in Mexico, beyond Darien, baptizing boys and girls a year old in the temples at the cross, pouring the water upon them from a small pitcher.”[323:1]
The water which they used was called the “WATER OF REGENERATION.”[323:2]
The Rev. Father Acosta alludes to this baptism by saying:
“The Indians had an infinite number of other ceremonies and customs which resembled to the ancient law of Moses, and some to those which the Moores use, and some approaching near to the Law of the Gospel, as the baths or Opacuna, as they called them;they did wash themselves in water to cleanse themselves from sin.”[323:3]
After speaking of “confession which the Indians used,” he says:
“When the Inca had been confessed, he made a certain bath to cleanse himself, in a running river, saying these words: ‘I have told my sins to the Sun (his god); receive them, O thou River, and carry them to the Sea, where they may never appear more.‘”[323:4]
He tells us that the Mexicans also had a baptism for infants, which they performed with great ceremony.[323:5]
Baptism was also practiced in Yucatan. They administered it to children three years old; and called it REGENERATION.[323:6]
The ancient Peruvians also baptized their children.[323:7]
History, then, records the fact that all the principal nations of antiquity administered the rite of baptism to their children, and to adults who were initiated into the sacred mysteries. The words “regenerationem et impunitatem perjuriorum suorum“—used by the heathen in this ceremony—prove that the doctrines as well as the outward forms were the same. The giving of a name to the child, the marking of him with the cross as a sign of his being a soldier of Christ, followed at fifteen years of age by his admission into the mysteries of the ceremony of confirmation, also prove that the two institutions are identical. But the most striking feature of all is the regeneration—and consequent forgiveness of sins—the being “born again.” This shows that the Christian baptism indoctrine as well as in outward ceremony, was precisely that of the heathen. We have seen that it was supposed to destroy all the evil in him, and all things that might injure him were requested to depart from him. So likewise among the Christians; the priest, looking upon the child, and baptizing him, was formerly accustomed to say:
“I command thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out and depart from this infant, whom our Lord Jesus Christ has vouchsafed to call to this holy baptism, to be made member of his body and of his holy congregation. And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyranny towards this infant, whom Christ hath bought with his precious blood, and by this holy baptism called to be of his flock.”
The ancients also baptized with fire as well as water. This is what is alluded to many times in the gospels; for instance, Matt. (iii. 11) makes John say, “I, indeed, baptize you with water; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with FIRE.”
The baptism by fire was in use by the Romans; it was performed by jumping three times through the flames of a sacred fire. This is still practiced in India. Even at the present day, in some parts of Scotland, it is a custom at the baptism of children to swing them in their clothes over a fire three times, saying, “Now, fire, burn this child, or never.” Here is evidently a relic of the heathen baptism by fire.
Christian baptism was not originally intended to be administered to unconscious infants, but to persons in full possession of their faculties, and responsible for their actions. Moreover, it was performed, as is well known, not merely by sprinkling the forehead, but by causing the candidate to descend naked into the water, the priest joining him there, and pouring the water over his head. The catechumen could not receive baptism until after he understood something of the nature of the faith he was embracing, and was prepared to assume its obligations. A rite more totally unfitted for administration to infants could hardly have been found. Yet such was the need that was felt for a solemn recognition by religion of the entrance of a child into the world, that this rite, in course of time, completely lost its original nature, and, as with the heathen, infancy took the place of maturity: sprinkling of immersion. But while the age and manner of baptism were altered, the ritual remained under the influence of the primitive idea with which it had been instituted. The obligations were no longer confined to the persons baptized, hence they must be undertaken for them. Thus was the Christian Church landed in the absurdity—unparalleled, we believe, in any other natal ceremony—of requiring the most solemn promises to be made, not by those who were thereafter to fulfill them, but by others in their name; these others having no power to enforce their fulfillment, and neither those actually assuming the engagement, nor those on whose behalf it was assumed, being morally responsible in case it should be broken. Yet this strange incongruity was forced upon the church by an imperious want of human nature itself, and the insignificant sects who have adopted the baptism of adults only, have failed, in their zeal for historical consistency, to recognize a sentiment whose roots lie far deeper than the chronological foundation of Christian rites, and stretch far wider than the geographical boundaries of the Christian faith.
The intention of all these forms of baptism is identical. Water, as the natural means of physical cleansing, is the universal symbol of spiritual purification. Hence immersion, or washing, or sprinkling, implies the deliverance of the infant from the stain of original sin.[325:1] The Pagan and Christian rituals, as we have seen, are perfectly clear on this head. In both, the avowed intention is to wash away the sinful nature common to humanity; in both, the infant is declared to be born again by the agency of water. Among the early Christians, as with the Pagans, the sacrament of baptism was supposed to contain a full and absolute expiation of sin; and the soul was instantly restored to its original purity, and entitled to the promise of eternal salvation. Among the proselytes of Christianity, there were many who judged it imprudent to precipitate a salutary rite, which could not be repeated; to throw away an inestimable privilege, which could never be recovered. By the delay of their baptism, they could venture freely to indulge their passions in the enjoyments of this world, while they still retained in their own hands the means of a sure and easy absolution. St. Constantine was one of these.
[316:1]The Rev. Dr. Geikie makes the assertion that: “With the call to repent, John united a significant rite for all who were willing to own their sins, and promise amendment of life. It was the new and striking requirement of baptism, which John had been sent by divine appointment to INTRODUCE.” (Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 394.)
[316:2]See Galatians, ii. 7-9. Acts, x. and xi.
[316:3]See The Bible for Learners, vol. iii. pp. 658 and 472.
[316:4]See Eusebius: Eccl. Hist., lib. 7, ch. ii.
[316:5]Monumental Christianity, p. 385.
[317:1]“Among all nations, and from the very earliest period, WATER has been used as a species of religious sacrament. . . . Water was the agent by means of which everything was regenerated or born again. Hence, in all nations, we find the Dove, or Divine Love, operating by means of its agent, water, and all nations using the ceremony of plunging, or, as we call it, baptizing, for the remission of sins, to introduce the candidate to a regeneration, to a new birth unto righteousness.” (Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 529.)
“Baptism is a very ancient rite pertaining to heathen religions, whether of Asia, Africa, Europe or America.” (Bonwick: Egyptian Belief, p. 416.)
“Baptism, or purification by water, was a ceremony common to all religions of antiquity. It consists in being made clean from some supposed pollution or defilement.” (Bell’s Pantheon, vol. ii. p. 201.)
“L’usage de ce Baptéme par immersion, qui subsista dans l’Occident jusqu’ au 8e ciècle, se maintient encore dans l’Eglise Greque: c’est celui que Jean le Précurseur administra, dans le Jourdain, à Jesus Christ même. Il fut pratiqué chez les Juifs, chez les Grecs, et chez presque tous les peuples, bien des siècles avant l’existence de la religion Chrétienne.” (D’Ancarville: Res., vol. i. p. 292.)
[317:2]See Amberly’s Analysis, p. 61. Bunsen’s Angel-Messiah, p. 42. Higgins’ Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 69, and Lillie’s Buddhism, pp. 55 and 184.
[317:3]Lillie’s Buddhism, p. 134.
[318:1]Life and Religion of the Hindus, p. 94.
[318:2]Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p. 125.
“Every orthodox Hindu is perfectly persuaded that the dirtiest water, if taken from a sacred stream and applied to his body, either externally or internally, will purify his soul.” (Prof. Monier Williams: Hinduism, p. 157.) The Egyptians bathed in the water of the Nile; the Chaldeans and Persians in the Euphrates, and the Hindus, at we have seen, in the Ganges, all of which were considered as “sacred waters” by the different nations. The Jews looked upon the Jordan in the same manner.
Herodotus, speaking of the Persians’ manners, says:
“They (the Persians) neither make water, nor spit, nor wash their hands in a river, nor defile the stream with urine, nor do they allow any one else to do so, but they pay extreme veneration to all rivers.” (Hist. lib. i. ch. 138.)
[318:3]Williams’ Hinduism, p. 176.
[318:4]Hist. Manichee, lib. ix. ch. vi. sect. xvi. in Anac., vol. ii. p. 65. See also, Dupuis: Orig. Relig. Belief, p. 249, and Baring-Gould: Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 392.
[318:5]“Pro infantibus non utuntur circumcisione, sed tantum baptismo seu lotione ad animæ purificationem internam. Infantem ad sacerdotem in ecclesiam adductum sistunt coram sole et igne, quâ factâ ceremoniâ, eundem sanctiorem existimant. D. Lord dicit quod aquam ad hoc afferunt in cortice arboris Holm: ea autem arbor revers est Haum Magorum, cujus mentionem aliâ occasione supra fecimus. Alias, aliquando fit immergendo in magnum vas aquæ, ut dicit Tavernier. Post talem lotionem seu baptismum, sacerdos imponit nomen à parentibus inditum.” (Hyde de Rel. Vet. Pers., p. 414.) After this Hyde goes on to say, that when he comes to be fifteen years of age he is confirmed by receiving the girdle, and the sudra or cassock.
[319:1]See Knight: Anct. Art and Mytho., p. xxv. Higgins: Anac., vol. i pp. 218 and 222. Dunlap: Mysteries of Adoni, p. 189. King: The Gnostics and their Remains, p. 51.
[319:2]De Præscrip. ch. xi.
[319:4]“Mithra signat illic in frontibus milites suos.”
[319:5]“Semper enim cruci baptismus jungitur.” (Aug. Temp. Ser. ci.)
[319:6]See Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 69, and Monumental Christianity, p. 385.
[319:7]“Sacerdos, stipatum me religiosa cohorte, deducit ad proximas balucas; et prius sueto lavraco traditum, prœfatus deûm veniam, purissimē circumrorans abluit.” (Apuleius: Milesi, ii. citat. a Higgins: Anac., vol. ii. p. 69.)
[320:1]Bonwick: Egyptian Belief, p. 416. Dunlap: Mysteries Adoni, p. 139.
[320:2]Baring-Gould: Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 392.
[320:3]See Higgins: Anac., vol. ii. pp. 67-69.
[320:4]Barnes: Notes, vol. i. p. 38. Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 65.
[320:5]Barnes: Notes, vol. i. p. 41.
[320:6]See Bunsen’s Angel-Messiah, p. 121, Gainsburgh’s Essenes, and Higgins’ Anacalypsis, vol. ii. pp. 66, 67.
[321:1]Baring-Gould: Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 391.
[321:2]“Holy Water“—water wherein the person is baptized, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (Church of England Catechism.)
[321:3]See Taylor’s Diegesis, pp. 333, 334, and Higgins’ Anacalypsis, ii. p. 65.
[321:4]See Taylor‘s Diegesis, pp. 80 and 232, and Baring-Gould’s Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 391.
“De-là-vint, que pour devenir capable d’entendre les secrets de la création, révélés dans ces mêmes mystères, il fallut se faire régénérerpar l’initiation. Cette cérémonie, par laquelle, on apprenoit les vrais principes de la vie, s’opéroit par le moyen de l’eau qui voit été celui de la régénération du monde. On conduisoit sur les bords de l’Ilissus le candidat qui devoit être initié; apres l’avoir purifié avec le sel et l’eau de la mer, on repandoit de l’orge sur lui, on le couronnoit de fleurs, et l’Hydranos ou le Baptisseur le plongeoit dans le fleuve.” (D’Ancarville: Res., vol. i. p. 292. Anac., ii. p. 65.)
[321:5]Taylor‘s Diegesis, p. 232.
[322:1]See Mallet’s Northern Antiquities, pp. 306, 313, 320, 366. Baring-Gould’s Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. pp. 392, 393, and Dupuis, p. 242.
[322:2]Mallet: Northern Antiquities, p. 206.
[322:3]Baring-Gould: Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 393. Higgins: Anac., vol. ii. p. 67, and Davies: Myths of the British Druids.
[322:4]Sir George Grey: Polynesian Mytho., p. 32, in Baring-Gould: Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 392.
[322:5]See Viscount Amberly’s Analysis Relig. Belief, p. 59.
[322:6]Vol. i. p. 64.
[323:1]Monumental Christianity, pp. 389, 390.
[323:2]Kingsborough: Mex. Antiq., vol. vi. p. 114.
[323:3]Hist. Indies, vol. ii. p. 369.
[323:4]Ibid. p. 361.
[323:5]Ibid. p. 369.
[323:6]Monumental Christianity, p. 390.
[323:7]Bonwick: Egyptian Belief, p. 416.
[325:1]That man is born in original sin seems to have been the belief of all nations of antiquity, especially the Hindus. This sense of original corruption is expressed in the following prayer, used by them:
“I am sinful, I commit sin, my nature is sinful, I am conceived in sin. Save me, O thou lotus-eyed Heri, the remover of Sin.” (Williams’ Hinduism, p. 214.)
Extract from CHAPTER XXXI, Babtism; “BIBLE MYTHS AND THEIR PARALLELS IN OTHER RELIGIONS” By T. W. DOANE, 1882. Produced by Marilynda Fraser-Cunliffe, Lisa Reigel, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31885/31885-h/31885-h.htm#Page_36