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In the following statement in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 381), what exactly does "one" mean for the framers (i.e., not to subsequent interpretation)?

  • English: We [or I] acknowledge [or confess] one Baptism for the remission [or forgiveness] of sins.
  • Latin (same as in Tridentine mass): Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatórum.
  • Greek: ὁμολογοῦμεν ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν· (transliteration: homologoũmen hèn báptisma eis áphesin hamartiō̃n)

Does "one" mean:

  1. You can only be baptized one time
  2. There is only one way to baptize (with the Trinitarian formula)
  3. The catechumen has to accept the one (orthodox) meaning of the creed
  4. There is only one authority (orthodox church) that gives the sacrament of baptism
  5. Baptized with the One Christ
  6. Baptized into One Body of Christ
  7. Etc.

This question, which is historical in nature, requires the answer to provide a reference to a historical work that the framers indeed intended that meaning.

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    The Donatist schism gave rise to a controversy about whether baptised Donatists returning to the Catholic communion should be rebaptised. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 22:03
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    @StephenDisraeli That's a plausible background for "one baptism" then. If you could post an answer with a corresponding source verifying that Donatist schism WAS the intention behind the "one baptism" phrasing, that would be great. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 22:08
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    There is one body and one Spirit, just as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:4-6.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 22:12
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    I suggest that 'one baptism' in Ephesians 4 is that baptism into Christ's death which frees us from slavery to sin and the coming of the Holy Spirit which makes us alive unto God (Romans 6) and that by the time the Nicene framers had come along this was being conflated with the act of water baptism. Sacramentalism had already begun so, whatever the framers meant may have already been going astray. Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 12:13
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    @MikeBorden I see. In this view, is it right then to say that after Reformation, Protestants also "reformed" the meaning of this statement in the creed to purge it from sacramental excesses? Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 12:34

2 Answers 2

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There is one body and one Spirit, just as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:4-6.

The creed is simply referring to the unity expressed by the apostle Paul to the saints in Ephesus and the faithful in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 1:1.

The unity is of one body, one Spirit, one hope, One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all.

There are not many bodies : just one. Not many faiths : only one. So is there only one ordinance, with one proscribed method (as commanded by Jesus Christ before he ascended, Matthew 8:19).

The creed does not come with explanations. It is a simple statement.

The creed briefly asserts what may be more fully seen within scripture.

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    I actually agree that this is the most plausible meaning in the mind of the framers. But my question is for the historical meaning of "one baptism". The historical answer I'm hoping to have needs a substantiating reference. So I'm afraid I cannot accept your answer, nor upvote it at this time. For your answer to work, you'll need to show that the framers link that phrase to the meaning you described here. Better yet, show the motivation behind that statement. @StephenDisraeli suggested the Donatist schism. Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 22:57
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    @GratefulDisciple The framers are quoting scripture. That is their meaning : the meaning that is already evident in scripture. I disagree with your thesis as to how the concept of the framers should be determined. Your quest for other documentation (than scripture) will merely lead to speculative rummaging through various artefacts. And you will miss the point that they were making from scripture itself. Again, I disagree.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 0:57
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    Yes, just like the meaning for the Trinitarian statements are already evident in scripture. The problem is which meaning they meant. Each one of the 6 examples in my OP could have a Biblical basis. If the background reason is to dispel a wrong teaching (like Arianism) for the nature of Christ, then there may be a wrong teaching that they authoritatively say "no" to in the case of the baptism statement, which would be meaningful to the original audience of the document. This is a normal process of responsible "exegeting" a historical document, not "speculative runmaging". Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 2:17
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    It may very well be that the framers quoted Eph 4:4-6, but then how did they interpret "one baptism" in Eph 4:4-6? It would be superfluous for Paul to say it again if "one baptism" = "one Lord" (Jesus), or "one baptism" = "one body" (universal church), for example. What remains not said is maybe "one formula" (Trinitarian) / "one method" (with water) / "one intention" (implying baptismal regeneration?), which is what @KenGraham's answer argues for. That is yet another reason why simply quoting Eph 4:4-6 is not enough; the specific interpretation meant by the framers need to be argued. Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 12:48
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What did "one baptism" in the Nicene Creed meant back then?

Before going on I would like to point out a huge over looked historical fact about the First Council of Nicene of 325: The acts of the Council are not preserved. The Nicene Creed, was approved in its final form at the Council of Constantinople (381), is the profession of the Christian Faith common to the Catholic Church, to all the Eastern Churches separated from Rome, and to many of the Protestant denominations. Pope St. Gregory the Great, following the example of Vigilius and Pelagius II, recognized it as one of the four general councils, but only in its dogmatic utterances.

One baptism would normally encompass a valid and licit baptism of those united in the faith of the Nicene Creed. That said, there would be baptisms of heretics which outside of the true Church would still be valid, yet not in unity with Holy Mother Church. Baptisms must be administered as baptizing someone as doing so with the intention that the Church (“one holy catholic and apostolic Church”) desires in baptizing someone, that is to say in the name of the Holy Trinity to be followed in administering the sacrament of baptism, while at the same time believing in the Most Holy Trinity. Thus St. Athanasius was in favour of denouncing baptism and other sacraments of the Arians as not valid.

Those not believing in the Trinity yet employing a trinitarian formula would not be acceptable to the faithful of the Nicene Creed. This constitutes the mind of the Church in regards to “one baptism”.

The Early Church insisted on the correct matter for baptism which is water 💦 , the Trinitarian formula (I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) and to do so with the intentions of the Church to do so.

Matter

Some of the Early Fathers, as Tertullian (On Baptism 1) and St. Augustine (Adv. Hær., xlvi and lix) enumerate heretics who rejected water entirely as a constituent of baptism. Such were the Gaians, Manichians, Seleucians, and Hermians. In the Middle Ages, the Waldensians are said to have held the same tenet (Ewald, Contra Walden., vi). Some of the sixteenth century reformers, while accepting water as the ordinary matter of this sacrament, declared that when water could not be had, any liquid could be used in its place. So Luther (Tischr., xvii) and Beza (Ep., ii, ad Till.). It was in consequence of this teaching that certain of the Tridentine canons were framed. Calvin held that the water used in baptism was simply symbolic of the Blood of Christ (Instit., IV, xv).

As a rule, however, those sects which believe in baptism at the present time, recognize water as the necessary matter of the sacrament.

Scripture is so positive in its statements as to the use of true and natural water for baptism that it is difficult to see why it should ever be called in question. Not only have we the explicit words of Christ (John 3:5) "Unless a man be born again of water", etc., but also in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul there are passages that preclude any metaphorical interpretation. Thus (Acts 10:47) St. Peter says "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized?" In the eighth chapter of the Acts is narrated the episode of Philip and the eunuch of Ethiopia, and in verse 36 we read: "They came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?"

Equally positive is the testimony of Christian tradition. Tertullian (On Baptism 1) begins his treatise: "The happy sacrament of our water". Justin Martyr (First Apology, Chapter 1) describes the ceremony of baptism and declares: Then they are led by us to where there is water . . . and then they are laved in the water". St. Augustine positively declares that there is no baptism without water (Tractate 15 on the Gospel of John).

Form

The requisite and sole valid form of baptism is: "I baptize thee (or This person is baptized) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." This was the form given by Christ to His Disciples in the twenty-eighth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, as far, at least, as there is question of the invocation of the separate Persons of the Trinity and the expression of the nature of the action performed. For the Latin usage: "I baptize thee", etc., we have the authority of the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, can. iv) and of the Council of Florence in the Decree of Union. In addition we have the constant practice of the whole Western Church. The Latins also recognize as valid the form used by the Greeks: "This servant of Christ is baptized", etc. The Florentine decree acknowledges the validity of this form and it is moreover recognized by the Bull of Leo X, "Accepimus nuper", and of Clement VII, "Provisionis nostrae." Substantially, the Latin and Greek forms are the same, and the Latin Church has never rebaptized Orientals on their return to unity.

In administering this sacrament it is absolutely necessary to use the word "baptize" or its equivalent (Alex. VIII, Prop. damn., xxvii), otherwise the ceremony is invalid.

The mind of the Church as to the necessity of serving the trinitarian formula in this sacrament has been clearly shown by her treatment of baptism conferred by heretics. Any ceremony that did not observe this form has been declared invalid. The Montanists baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and Montanus and Priscilla (St. Basil, Epistle 188). As a consequence, the Council of Laodicea ordered their rebaptism. The Arians at the time of the Council of Nicæa do not seem to have tampered with the baptismal formula, for that Council does not order their rebaptism. When, then, St. Athanasius (Against the Arians, Oration 2) and St. Jerome (Against the Luciferians) declare the Arians to have baptized in the name of the Creator and creatures, they must either refer to their doctrine or to a later changing of the sacramental form. It is well known that the latter was the case with the Spanish Arians and that consequently converts from the sect were rebaptized. The Anomæans, a branch of the Arians, baptized with the formula: "In the name of the uncreated God and in the name of the created Son, and in the name of the Sanctifying Spirit, procreated by the created Son" (Epiphanius, Hær., lxxvii).

Other Arian sects, such as the Eunomians and Aetians, baptized "in the death of Christ". Converts from Sabellianism were ordered by the First Council of Constantinople (can. vii) to be rebaptized because the doctrine of Sabellius that there was but one person in the Trinity had infected their baptismal form. The two sects sprung from Paul of Samosata, who denied Christ's Divinity, likewise conferred invalid baptism. They were the Paulianists and Photinians. Pope Innocent I (Ad. Episc. Maced., vi) declares that these sectaries did not distinguish the Persons of the Trinity when baptizing. The Council of Nicæa (canon 19) ordered the rebaptism of Paulianists, and the Council of Arles (can. xvi and xvii) decreed the same for both Paulianists and Photinians.

Thus the “one baptism” would be a licit and valid baptism using the correct matter, form and intention of the Church to do so with the faith in the Trinity .

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