In his most recent book, Baptism in the Early Church, Everett Ferguson presents an extensive survey of the extant documents pertaining to early Christian baptism. In his final chapters, Ferguson supplements this literary study with analysis of the art and architecture associated with the rite, especially ancient baptismal fonts. From this combined review of texts together with artifacts, Ferguson concludes that baptism was universally (and normatively) accomplished by submersion of the both head and body, and that baptism was usually a rite of adult immersion until the fifth or sixth century, with exceptions made for infants in danger of death. This essay begins by summarizing the movement from outdoor to indoor baptism and the establishment of separate structures for the rite by reference to both documentary and archaeological evidence. Then, turning to the administration of the water, and attending to the depths and design of existing ancient fonts, it argues against any universal practice, particularly of submersion. Instead, in many places, pouring or affusion of water would have accomplished immersion over adult candidates while they stood in the font. Finally, this essay presents evidence for a more inclusive practice of infant and adult baptism from the third through the sixth or seventh centuries. Overall, it appears that neither archaeological nor iconographic records are easily deployed to prove that early Christian practice adhered to any universal or consistent norms with regard to submersion or baptism of adults.


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pp. 371-405
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