St Irenaeus. ‘Against Heresies. 1; 21’.
And when we come to refute them, we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith.
St Basil The Great. ‘De Spiritu Sancto’.
For perfection of life the imitation of Christ is necessary, not only in the example of gentleness, lowliness, and long suffering set us in His life, but also of His actual death. So Paul, the imitator of Christ, says,
being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 How then are we made in the likeness of His death? Romans 6:4-5 In that we were buried with Him by baptism. What then is the manner of the burial? And what is the advantage resulting from the imitation? First of all, it is necessary that the continuity of the old life be cut. And this is impossible less a man be born again, according to the Lord’s word; John 3:3 for the regeneration, as indeed the name shows, is a beginning of a second life. So before beginning the second, it is necessary to put an end to the first. For just as in the case of runners who turn and take the second course, a kind of halt and pause intervenes between the movements in the opposite direction, so also in making a change in lives it seemed necessary for death to come as mediator between the two, ending all that goes before, and beginning all that comes after. How then do we achieve the descent into hell? By imitating, through baptism, the burial of Christ. For the bodies of the baptized are, as it were, buried in the water. Baptism then symbolically signifies the putting off of the works of the flesh; as the apostle says, you were
circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with him in baptism. Colossians 2:11-12 And there is, as it were, a cleansing of the soul from the filth that has grown on it from the carnal mind, as it is written,
You shall wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. On this account we do not, as is the fashion of the Jews, wash ourselves at each defilement, but own the baptism of salvation to be one. For there the death on behalf of the world is one, and one the resurrection of the dead, whereof baptism is a type. For this cause the Lord, who is the Dispenser of our life, gave us the covenant of baptism, containing a type of life and death, for the water fulfils the image of death, and the Spirit gives us the earnest of life. Hence it follows that the answer to our question why the water was associated with the Spirit is clear: the reason is because in baptism two ends were proposed; on the one hand, the destroying of the body of sin, that it may never bear fruit unto death; on the other hand, our living unto the Spirit, and having our fruit in holiness; the water receiving the body as in a tomb figures death, while the Spirit pours in the quickening power, renewing our souls from the deadness of sin unto their original life. This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the being made dead being effected in the water, while our life is wrought in us through the Spirit. In three immersions, then, and with three invocations, the great mystery of baptism is performed, to the end that the type of death may be fully figured, and that by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened. It follows that if there is any grace in the water, it is not of the nature of the water, but of the presence of the Spirit. For baptism is
not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God. 1 Peter 3:21 .
St. Gregory of Nyssa . “On the Baptism of Christ”
Let us however, if it seems well, persevere in enquiring more fully and more minutely concerning Baptism, starting, as from the fountain-head, from the Scriptural declaration,
Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Why are both named, and why is not the Spirit alone accounted sufficient for the completion of Baptism? Man, as we know full well, is compound, not simple: and therefore the cognate and similar medicines are assigned for healing to him who is twofold and conglomerate:— for his visible body, water, the sensible element—for his soul, which we cannot see, the Spirit invisible, invoked by faith, present unspeakably. For
the Spirit breathes where He wills, and you hear His voice, but canst not tell whence He comes or whither He goes. He blesses the body that is baptized, and the water that baptizes. Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby…
And the wood of the Cross is of saving efficacy for all men, though it is, as I am informed, a piece of a poor tree, less valuable than most trees are. So a bramble bush showed to Moses the manifestation of the presence of God: so the remains of Elisha raised a dead man to life; so clay gave sight to him that was blind from the womb. And all these things, though they were matter without soul or sense, were made the means for the performance of the great marvels wrought by them, when they received the power of God. Now by a similar train of reasoning, water also, though it is nothing else than water, renews the man to spiritual regeneration , when the grace from above hallows it. And if any one answers me again by raising a difficulty, with his questions and doubts, continually asking and inquiring how water and the sacramental act that is performed therein regenerate, I most justly reply to him,
Show me the mode of that generation which is after the flesh, and I will explain to you the power of regeneration in the soul. You will say perhaps, by way of giving an account of the matter,
It is the cause of the seed which makes the man. Learn then from us in return, that hallowed water cleanses and illuminates the man. And if you again object to me your
How? I shall more vehemently cry in answer,
How does the fluid and formless substance become a man? and so the argument as it advances will be exercised on everything through all creation. How does heaven exist? How earth? How sea? How every single thing? For everywhere men’s reasoning, perplexed in the attempt at discovery, falls back upon this syllable
how, as those who cannot walk fall back upon a seat. To speak concisely, everywhere the power of God and His operation are incomprehensible and incapable of being reduced to rule, easily producing whatever He wills, while concealing from us the minute knowledge of His operation. Hence also the blessed David, applying his mind to the magnificence of creation, and filled with perplexed wonder in his soul, spoke that verse which is sung by all,
O Lord, how manifold are Your works: in wisdom have You made them all. The wisdom he perceived: but the art of the wisdom he could not discover. Let us then leave the task of searching into what is beyond human power, and seek rather that which shows signs of being partly within our comprehension:— what is the reason why the cleansing is effected by water? And to what purpose are the three immersions received? That which the fathers taught, and which our mind has received and assented to, is as follows:— We recognize four elements, of which the world is composed, which every one knows even if their names are not spoken; but if it is well, for the sake of the more simple, to tell you their names, they are fire and air, earth and water. Now our God and Saviour, in fulfilling the Dispensation for our sakes, went beneath the fourth of these, the earth, that He might raise up life from thence. And we in receiving Baptism, in imitation of our Lord and Teacher and Guide, are not indeed buried in the earth (for this is the shelter of the body that is entirely dead, covering the infirmity and decay of our nature), but coming to the element akin to earth, to water, we conceal ourselves in that as the well, for the sake of the more simple, to tell you their names, they are fire and air, earth and water. Now our God and Saviour, in fulfilling the Dispensation for our sakes, went beneath the fourth of these, the earth, that He might raise up life from thence. And we in receiving Baptism, in imitation of our Lord and Teacher and Guide, are not indeed buried in the earth (for this is the shelter of the body that is entirely dead, covering the infirmity and decay of our nature), but coming to the element akin to earth, to water, we conceal ourselves in that as the Saviour did in the earth: and by doing this thrice we represent for ourselves that grace of the Resurrection which was wrought in three days: and this we do, not receiving the sacrament in silence, but while there are spoken over us the Names of the Three Sacred Persons on Whom we believed, in Whom we also hope, from Whom comes to us both the fact of our present and the fact of our future existence.
St. Ambrose. On the Mysteries
20. Therefore read that the three witnesses in baptism, the water, the blood, and the Spirit, 1 John 5:7 are one, for if you take away one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism does not exist. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element, without any sacramental effect. Nor, again, is there the Sacrament of Regeneration without water:
For except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5 Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, wherewith he too is signed; but unless he be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive remission of sins nor gain the gift of spiritual grace.