An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


Mode of baptism in which the candidate's entire body is introduced into the water. The term "baptize" is from the Greek, "to dip." Immersion was the normal way of baptism in the early church. Questions concerning the candidate's belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were answered in the affirmative, and each followed by an immersion of the candidate. Christian creeds developed from these questions and answers at baptism. The candidate's immersion and emergence from the water of baptism is sharing in Christ's death and resurrection (Rom 6:1-11, Col 2:12). Scripture also describes baptism as a cleansing bath of spiritual renewal (Eph 5:26, Ti 3:5, Heb 10:22). In the early church, candidates were baptized by immersion in natural or existing sources of water such as rivers, fountains, pools, and the sea. The Didache permits pouring water over the head of the candidate three times in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit if there is insufficient water for immersion. Water and the trinitarian formula are essential for baptism, but there is flexibility concerning the mode and place of baptism.

By the third century baptisms were being done in pools or baths in a special room or area of a church known as a baptistery. The shallowness and size of some baptisteries has led some to question whether baptisms involved complete submersions. Immersion has been distinguished from submersion. The evidence of early baptisteries and Christian art has been interpreted to indicate that the candidate stood in a pool of water while water was poured over the candidate's head. Others have interpreted the architectural evidence of early baptisteries to argue that the candidate bent over to be completely immersed. Patristic writings indicate that the candidate for baptism stood about waist deep in water and was immersed by bowing forward with the celebrant's hand on the candidate's head. The Orthodox and some Protestant churches have generally insisted that immersion is required for baptism. Luther favored baptism by immersion to signify the drowning of sin, but he did not insist on immersion.

The 1549 BCP called for a threefold immersion and the trinitarian baptismal formula. The celebrant was to dip the child "discreetly and warily." Infant baptism was typical in the Anglican Church at that time. The 1552 BCP did not require a threefold immersion. The 1979 BCP directs (p. 307) that the celebrant or an assisting priest or deacon shall immerse or pour water upon each candidate and say the trinitarian formula of baptism. In practice, most Episcopal churches baptize by pouring (affusion). However, the renewal of the catechumenate and the Christian formation of adults has been accompanied by appreciation for the symbolic power and appropriateness of baptism by immersion.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.