Basil on Baptism


While we're on the topic of baptism, here's a really interesting excerpt from Basil the Great on the relationship between baptism and faith, and the question of how baptism now saves.
Well, then, if the separation of the Spirit from the Father and the Son in baptism is dangerous for the baptizer and useless for the baptized, how is it safe for us to separate the Spirit from the Father and the Son? Now faith and baptism are two ways of salvation that are naturally united with each other and indivisible. While faith is perfected by baptism, baptism is established by faith, and each is carried out by the same names. For as we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so also we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The confession that brings salvation comes first and there follows baptism which seals our assent.
(Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 12,28)

Now, Basil is not one of the church fathers about whose theology I know a great deal (I think On the Holy Spirit is probably the only work of Basil's that I've read). But this paragraph has always struck me. And here's why:

  1. 'Faith is perfected by baptism' - So, for Basil, baptism is the outcome of faith or the completion of our our coming to faith.
  2. 'Baptism is established by faith' - This goes strongly against any ex opere operato notion of baptism. Faith is essential to make baptism a baptism. (Although, to be fair to the historical period, this isn't necessarily a statement about the timing of that faith.)
  3. 'The confession that brings salvation comes first' - This does seem a lot more like a statement regarding the order of faith and baptism. (Anyway, a good credo-baptist can certainly borrow it. NB Basil, as was the custom at the time, was not baptized as an infant, despite growing up in the Christian family, so he actually could be making a statement about the order of faith and baptism. But as I've pointed out, I'm no expert on Basil.)
  4. 'And there follows baptism which seals our assent' - Baptism, for Basil, seals our faith. (Now, although the language of 'seal' in connection with baptism might sound familiar from Protestant theology, there is a difference here. For Reformation theology baptism is a seal of our union with Christ, for Basil it's a seal on our faith, so the two aren't quite the same.) This goes together with point one above, that faith is perfected by baptism. Faith, if you like, comes to it's expression in baptism, and so baptism seals faith. 
Anyway, there you go - a bit of reflection on baptism, faith and salvation from Basil the Great.

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The Unity of the Godhead, and Trinity of the Persons therein.

The utter depravity of human nature, the necessity for repentance and regeneration and the eternal doom of the finally impenitent.

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