Tertullian on Infant BaptismPublished by josh mulvihill on Thu, 04/26/2012 - 4:39pm
By Josh Mulvihill
Tertullian was an African theologian who lived from 160-225 AD and whose writings still influence theologians today. One such writing is a treatment of baptism in which he questions the wisdom of baptizing infants:
But they whose duty it is to administer baptism, are to know that it must not be given rashly. Give to everyone has its proper subject and relates to almsgiving. But that command is rather here to be considered, ‘Give not that which is holy to dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine’; or again, ‘Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s faults.…Therefore, according to everyone’s condition and disposition, and also his age, the delaying of baptism is more profitable, especially in the case of little children. For why is it necessary – if [baptism itself] is not necessary – that the sponsors should be thrust into danger. For they may either fail of their promise by death, or they may be mistaken by a child’s proving of wicked disposition.
Our Lord says, indeed, ‘Do not forbid them to come to me.’ Therefore, let them come when they are grown up; let them come when they understand, when they are instructed whither it is that they come; let them be made Christians when they can know Christ…They that understand the weight of baptism will rather dread the receiving of it, than the delaying of it.
The last sentence is profound and worth meditating on.