Types of Baptism

Having considered the Christian meaning of the term “baptism”, we now turn our attention to the various rites which were its forerunners before the New Dispensation.

Types of this sacrament are to be found among the Jews and Gentiles. Its place in the sacramental system of the Old Law was taken by circumcision, which is called by some of the Fathers “the washing of blood” to distinguish it from “the washing of water”. By the rite of circumcision, the recipient was incorporated into the people of God and made a partaker in the Messianic promises; a name was bestowed upon him and he was reckoned among the children of Abraham, the father of all believers.

Other forerunners of baptism were the numerous purifications prescribed in the Mosaic dispensation for legal uncleannesses. The symbolism of an outward washing to cleanse an invisible blemish was made very familiar to the Jews by their sacred ceremonies. But in addition to these more direct types, both the New Testament writers and the Fathers of the Church find many mysterious foreshadowings of baptism. Thus St. Paul (1 Corinthians 10) adduces the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, and St. Peter (1 Peter 3) the Deluge, as types of the purification to be found in Christian baptism. Other foreshadowings of the sacrament are found by the Fathers in the bathing of Naaman in the Jordan, in the brooding of the Spirit of God over the waters, in the rivers of Paradise, in the blood of the Paschal Lamb, during Old Testament times, and in the pool of Bethsaida, and in the healing of the dumb and blind in the New Testament.

How natural and expressive the symbolism of exterior washing to indicate interior purification was recognized to be, is plain from the practice also of the heathen systems of religion. The use of lustral water is found among the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Hindus, and others. A closer resemblance to Christian baptism is found in a form of Jewish baptism, to be bestowed on proselytes, given in the Babylonian Talmud (Döllinger, First Age of the Church).

But above all must be considered the baptism of St. John the Precursor. John baptized with water (Mark 1) and it was a baptism of penance for the remission of sins (Luke 3). While, then, the symbolism of the sacrament instituted by Christ was not new, the efficacy which He joined to the rite is that which differentiates it from all its types. John’s baptism did not produce grace, as he himself testifies (Matthew 3) when he declares that he is not the Messias whose baptism is to confer the Holy Ghost. Moreover, it was not John’s baptism that remitted sin, but the penance that accompanied it; and hence St. Augustine calls it (De Bapt. contra Donat., V) “a remission of sins in hope”. As to the nature of the Precursor’s baptism, St. Thomas (III:38:1) declares: The baptism of John was not a sacrament of itself, but a certain sacramental as it were, preparing the way (disponens) for the baptism of Christ.” Durandus calls it a sacrament, indeed, but of the Old Law, and St. Bonaventure places it as a medium between the Old and New Dispensations. It is of Catholic faith that the Precursor’s baptism was essentially different in its effects from the baptism of Christ, It is also to be noted that those who had previously received John’s baptism had to receive later the Christian baptism (Acts 19).

Written by William H.W. Fanning. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J..

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

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