Erroneous Mode of Baptism

The last instructions that the resurrected Christ gave to His disciples before ascending to Heaven is called the GREAT COMMISSION:

Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20).

For the first 3 centuries, the Christians took this command literally and baptized ADULTS by TRIUNE immersion into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Here is a quote from Saint Basil the Great (330-379)—one of the most important saints of the Orthodox Church:

This great sign of baptism is fulfilled in three immersions, with three invocations, so that the image of death might be completely formed, and the newly-baptized might have their souls enlightened with divine knowledge. (St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, p. 59).

Here is a quote from the Apostolical Constitutions written sometime around A.D. 200:

50. If any bishop or presbyter does not perform the three immersions of the one admission, but one immersion, which is given into the death of Christ, let him be deprived; for the Lord did not say, "Baptize into my death," but, "Go ye and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Do ye, therefore, O bishops, baptize thrice into one Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, according to the will of Christ, and our constitution by the Spirit? (Apostolical Constitutions, Ante-Nicene Christian Library, vol. 17, p. 263).

Due to the almost total destruction of Christian history at the time of Emperor Diocletian, we can only quote a few sources, but the Orthodox Church retains the original formula, and the Latins baptized 3 times by immersion until the 13th century.

The Latin baptismal formula was changed in the 13th century

According to the teaching of the Latin Church, baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation and is the only gateway to the kingdom of Heaven:

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997, Part Two, Article 1).

Baptism is administered by AFFUSION or pouring water on the head and invoking the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This innovation only goes back to the time of the Reformation and was started by the Jesuits.

Pope John Paul baptizing an infant.
Pope John Paul II baptizing an infant.

Latin baptism is done by AFFUSION or pouring water on the head and invoking the name of the Trinity.

The baby is held upside down and in the WRONG position for "baptism."

Pope Benedict XVI baptizing an infant. Pope Benedict XVI baptizing an infant.

Apostolic baptism was done by the candidate for baptism plunging his/her head under the water 3 times. No assistance was necessary from another person (unlike backwards baptism) except to say the baptismal formula. Of course, infants could not do this simple exercise of bowing 3 times into the water and so were NOT candidates for baptism.

Before the Reformation, infants were baptized once or three times by immersion with their faces toward the water.

13th century depiction of infant baptism.
13th century depiction of infant baptism.

Before the Reformation, the baby went face down once or three times into the water.

It was under orders from the Jesuit generals that AFFUSION or pouring was substituted for immersion.


14th century Saxon baptism.
14th century Saxon baptism.

Here is a quote from a monumental History of Baptism written in the year 1817:

Immersion, singe or trine was the ordinary mode of baptism in the Catholick church from the beginning till the reformation, and the Lutheran reformers continued it. In regards to the Catholicks, the evidence is beyond all contradiction. Canons, manuals, legends, histories and homilies describe it in words: and monuments, baptisteries, and pictures in missals describe it in sculpture and painting. (Robinson, History of Baptism, p. 393).

Most movies or pictures of the baptism of Joshua show him going backwards into the water. This is a complete error because John the Baptist was able to baptize thousands of people every day and this would have been impossible if he had to dip them backwards into the water.

Joshua went down into the water face first.
Joshua went down into the water face first.

The 1977 Franco Zeffirelli movie Jesus of Nazareth correctly depicts the baptism of Joshua.

Roman centurion Cornelius—the first non-Jew to became a Christian—was baptized by St. Peter head first and with 3 immersions in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Baptism of Cornelius by St. Peter.
Baptism of Cornelius by St. Peter.

Joshua came up immediately out of the water, without any assistance, which would have been impossible if he went down backwards into the water.

And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him. (Mark 1:10).

Here is a quote from Saint John Chrysostom (347-407)—one of the 3 most important saints in the Orthodox Church:

For when we immerse our heads in water, the old is buried as in a tomb below, and wholly sunk for ever: then as we raise them again, the new man rises in its stead. As it is easy to dip and lift our heads again, so it is easy for God to bury the old man, and to show forth the new. And this is done thrice, that you may learn that the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost fulfilleth all things. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John, p. 211).

To this very day, the Orthodox still retain the Apostolic pattern, and anybody joining the Orthodox Church from the Latin (or most Protestant churches), must be rebaptized the Scriptural way by triune immersion.

Up to the 13th century, single immersion was limited to Spain, but was popularized by the teachings of a Dominican monk named Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas Aquinas (1215-1274).
Thomas Aquinas (1215-1274).

Thomas Aquinas was the authoritative teacher of the Latin Church, second only to Augustine of Hippo in influence.

He is called the Angelic Doctor or Doctor Angelicus.

He admitted that triune immersion was the proper mode of baptism, but single immersion was still valid . . . even though it was a grievous sin!!

A page of the Summa Theologica.
A page of the Summa Theologica.

This doctor of the Latin Church quotes Augustine in a debate about the mode of baptism, and admits that triune immersion was the common practice:

Objection 1. It seems that trine immersion is essential to Baptism. For Augustine says in a sermon on the Symbol, addressed to the Neophytes: "Rightly were you dipped three times, since you were baptized in the name of the Trinity. Rightly were you dipped three times, because you were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, Who on the third day rose again from the dead. For that thrice repeated immersion reproduces the burial of the Lord by which you were buried with Christ in Baptism." Now both seem to be essential to Baptism, namely, that in Baptism the Trinity of Persons should be signified, and that we should be conformed to Christ's burial. Therefore it seems that trine immersion is essential to Baptism. ("Catholic" Encyclopedia, article on baptism).

Then he quotes Pope Gregory to show that the rite was changed to single immersion by the Spanish Fourth Council of Toledo in 633:

On the contrary, Gregory wrote to the Bishop Leander: "It cannot be in any way reprehensible to baptize an infant with either a trine or a single immersion: since the Trinity can be represented in the three immersions, and the unity of the Godhead in one immersion."

I answer that As stated above (7, ad 1), washing with water is of itself required for Baptism, being essential to the sacrament: whereas the mode of washing is accidental to the sacrament. Consequently, as Gregory in the words above quoted explains, both single and trine immersion are lawful considered in themselves; since one immersion signifies the oneness of Christ's death and of the Godhead; while trine immersion signifies the three days of Christ's burial, and also the Trinity of Persons.

But for various reasons, according as the Church has ordained, one mode has been in practice, at one time, the other at another time. For since from the very earliest days of the Church some have had false notions concerning the Trinity, holding that Christ is a mere man, and that He is not called the "Son of God" or "God" except by reason of His merit, which was chiefly in His death; for this reason they did not baptize in the name of the Trinity, but in memory of Christ's death, and with one immersion. And this was condemned in the early Church. Wherefore in the Apostolic Canons (xlix) we read: "If any priest or bishop confer baptism not with the trine immersion in the one administration, but with one immersion, which baptism is said to be conferred by some in the death of the Lord, let him be deposed": for our Lord did not say, "Baptize ye in My death," but "In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Later on, however, there arose the error of certain schismatics and heretics who rebaptized: as Augustine (Super. Joan., cf. De Haeres. lxix) relates of the Donatists. Wherefore, in detestation of their error, only one immersion was ordered to be made, by the (fourth) council of Toledo, in the acts of which we read: "In order to avoid the scandal of schism or the practice of heretical teaching let us hold to the single baptismal immersion."

But now that this motive has ceased, trine immersion is universally observed in Baptism: and consequently anyone baptizing otherwise would sin gravely, through not following the ritual of the Church. It would, however, be valid Baptism. ("Catholic" Encyclopedia, article on baptism).

In the West and East, triune immersion in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was the common practice until the 13th century.
The Fourth Council of Toledo changed the mode of baptism

The Fourth Council of Toledo was held in Toledo, Spain, in the year 633. It was not an ecumenical council and no Greeks were present. The Pope at that time was Gregory I, also called Gregory the GREAT.

At that time, the Vatican called anyone who did not belong to their church by the contemptuous title, ARIAN....An ARIAN meant anybody who didn't believe in the Trinity. The Goths of Spain would not unite with the Papacy and they considered themselves to be the true Catholics:

The Arians of Spain commonly referred to Catholicism as "the Roman religion", while Arianism was considered by them to be "the Catholic faith."' To become a Nicaean was, so to speak, to become a Roman, to cease to be a Goth. But they cannot seriously have regarded Arianism as 'catholic': that would have been in contradiction with the use of Gothic as the liturgical language and with the requirement of rebaptism of converts from Catholicism. (Thompson, The Goths in Spain, p. 40).

Now these "ARIAN" Goths in Spain baptized by TRIPLE IMMERSION even though the Roman historians say they didn't believe in the Trinity:

The triple as well as the simple immersion at baptism was recognized by the Catholic Church until it was noticed that the Arians of Spain immersed thrice. In a letter to Leander of Seville, Gregory the Great then recommended the Catholics to immerse once only so as to distinguish themselves from the heretics? (His letter was written in April 591 when Arianism had been smashed, and the need to distinguish Catholic baptismal rites from Arian ones might seem to have been less pressing than it had formerly been.) The problem was a puzzling one: it had already been raised among the Catholics of the Suevic kingdom of Galicia. It had been discussed by Pope Vigilius in 538 in a letter to Profuturus, Metropolitan of Braga,who had asked Rome for a ruling on this and other matters; and Vigilius, unlike his great successor, had declared in favour of the triple immersion. (Thompson, The Goths in Spain, p. 41-42)).

Arian, Donatist or Nestorian were derisive names given by the Vatican to anyone who did not follow her false doctrines.

Pope Gregory I (540-604).
Pope Gregory I (540-604).
Reigned from 590 to 604.

The Gothic Christians of Spain were contemptuously called "ARIANS" even though they practiced TRIUNE immersion.

In order not to copy the "heretics," Pope Gregory authorized Leander, bishop of Seville, to change the baptismal mode to single immersion.


Bishop Leander of Seville (534-600).
Bishop Leander of Seville (534-600).
Bishop of Seville from 579 to 600.

This was the first mention of single immersion . . . and it was limited to Spain.

n order not to copy the "ARIAN" Goths who baptized by TRIPLE IMMERSION, the Pope changed the mode to single immersion....Confused??.... Babylon means CONFUSION.

Pope Gregory was called GREAT because he sent a delegation to Britain in order to stop the Hibernian missionaries. The Hibernians—the spiritual sons of Saint Patrick—were fulfilling the Great Commission by preaching the Gospel to the whole world.

Pope Gregory sent Augustine to England in order to stop the Celtic missionaries!!

The Hibernian Christians—the spiritual heirs of Saint Patrick—were fulfilling the Great Commission by preaching the Gospel to the whole world.

For the Celtic missionaries, there was no hiding behind the thick walls of Rome or Constantinople. They had to bring the life saving Gospel of Christ to the barbarian Anglo-Saxons, Goths, Vandals and Franks.

The Celtic missionaries had great success in England, and in the year 595, Pope Gregory sent Augustine to stop the evangelization at all costs.

Initially, Augustine was TERRIFIED of the prospect of facing the barbarian Anglo-Saxons . . . and he refused to go....Pope Gregory increased his courage by increasing the amount of gold available to persuade King Ethelbert to become a "Christian," and Augustine finally relented and reached England in 597.

Augustine of Canterbury.
Augustine of Canterbury.

Augustine of Canterbury—the so-called "Apostle" of England—was sent by Pope Gregory to stop the Hibernian evangelization of England and the Continent of Europe.

Augustine "preaching" to King Etherlbert.
Augustine "preaching" to King Etherlbert.

Here is a quote from the History of the Scottish Nation by Dr. Wylie:

The result was just what might have been expected to follow the labours of such an evangelist. The Northumbrians, forsaking Thor, whom their fathers had worshiped, turned to Christ, and the light of the Gospel spread over the eastern and midland counties of England as far as the Thames. We mention the following as among the more illustrious of these evangelists—Aidan, Finian, Colman, Tuda, Ceadda, Caedd, Diuma, Cellagh, Fursey. Under their labours the whole region of the Heptarchy—that is, all England from the Thames to the Forth and Clyde, was enlightened with the knowledge of the Saviour. But the northern missionaries found that the worshippers of Thor were not their only opponents. The monks from Rome, who had established their headquarters at Canterbury, offered them a more determined though insidious opposition than the Anglo-Saxon pagans. Of the two religions which had entered England from the north, that of Thor and that of Iona, the monks seemed to believe that the latter was the more heterodox. They gained over Oswy, the King of Northumbria, to their cause, and the first use they made of their triumph was to stop the evangelization and drive out the preachers who had come from Iona. The second result was the bloody battle at Nectan's Mere, which in its turn stopped the march of the monkish host which was advancing northwards on purpose to attack Iona, and root out the nest of heretics which in such numbers were taking their flight southwards. Of the Columban missionaries whom we see the monks of Augustine chasing out of Northumbria, Bede has given us a fine picture, which we here quote. He says: "How parsimonious, and how disinterested and strict in their manner of life, he (Colman) and his predecessors were, even the very place which they governed testified, by its simplicity and plainness; for, upon their departure, very few houses, the church excepted, were found there, and those only such, that, without them, there could be no civil existence. They had no money, possessing only some cattle. For whatever money they received from the rich, they immediately gave to the poor. Nor, indeed, had they need to collect monies, or provide houses for the reception of the great men of the world, who, then, never came to the church, but only to pray or hear the Word of God." (History of the Scottish Nation, vol. II, ch. 26, p. 336).

The Greek East never fell into heresy like the Latin West, and Hibernia was never part of the Papal Church, until as late as the 12th century.
Triune immersion was practiced in Hibernia up to the 12th century

The Orthodox still follow the Apostolic pattern and do not recognize pouring or single immersion as valid baptism.

Up to the 12th century, triune immersion was still the only baptismal rite in Hibernia, although children were now substituted for adults.

At the Council of Cashel held in Ireland in the year 1172, triune immersion was still the correct mode of baptism:

This synod is worthy of note as representing the voice of all the archbishops and bishops in Ireland. It was attended also, by direction of Henry II of England, by two of his own clergy. The design of the synod was to procure conformity, ecclesiastical as well as secular, between England and Ireland.
It decreed, Can. 1, "That children shall be brought to the church, and shall there be baptized in pure water by trine immersion, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And let this be done by the priests, unless in imminent danger of death it behoove that it be administered by another person and in any other place, and then let it be performed by any one, without distinction of sex or rank." (Chrystal, History of the Modes of Christian Baptism, pp. 178-179).


Chrystal, Rev. Charles. History of the Modes of Christian Baptism. Lindsay and Blakiston, Philadelphia, 1861.

Chesterton, G.K. Saint Thomas Aquinas "The Dumb Ox." Image Books, Doubleday & Co., New York, 1956.

Homilies of St. John Chrysostom. John Henry Parker. Oxford and London, 1848,

Markus, R.A. Gregory the Great and His World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1997.

Quinter, James. A Vindication of Trine Immersion as the Apostolic Form of Christian Baptism. The Brethren Publishing Co., Huntingdon, PA, 1886.

Roberts, Alexander and James Donadson, eds. Apostolical Constitutions. Ante-Nicene Christian Library . T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1872.

Robinson, Robert. History of Baptism. Lincoln and Edmands, Boston, 1817.

Saint Basil the Great. On the Holy Spirit. St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. Crestwood, New York, 2001.

Thompson, E.A. The Goths in Spain. Oxford University Press, New York, 1969.

Copyright © 2013 by Patrick Scrivener

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