Article: Losing the Faith (8/22)
We could find no direct references to the baptism of infants in the second century. There is a statement of Irenaeus that has been taken to refer to the practice, but there is some question that it was so intended. Irenaeus writes: “For he came to save all by means of himself – all, I say, who by him are born again to God – infants, children, adolescents, young men and old men.” From its context, it is doubtful that the writer meant to countenance infant baptism, or that the practice was known to him (Against Heresies, II, xxiv.4).
The following note may be of help with this quotation: “The context of Irenaeus’ statement is his doctrine of recapitulation according to which Christ summed up all of humanity in himself. Involved in this conception for Irenaeus was the idea that Jesus passed through all the ages of life, sanctifying each. There is nothing specifically about baptism, but ‘born again’ makes one think of baptism. ‘Regeneration,’ a different word from what is used in the passage under consideration, regularly means baptism for Irenaeus” (Everett Ferguson: Early Christians Speak, p. 59).
Tertullian, early in the third century, writes of the baptism of infants, thereby indicating that it was done in his day; but he does not approve of it. We would assume from his comment that it was not the general practice. “Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you may be seen to have ‘given to him who asks’” (Tertullian: On Baptism, xvii).