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Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning

Page: 188

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 [Pg 325]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.


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