Chapter XI.—Seized by Disease, His Mother Being Troubled, He Earnestly Demands Baptism, Which on Recovery is Postponed—His Father Not as Yet Believing in Christ.
17. Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God condescending to our pride, and I was signed with the sign of the cross, and was seasoned with His salt 161 even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in Thee. Thou sawest, O Lord, how at one time, while yet a boy, being suddenly seized with pains in the stomach, and being at the point of death—Thou sawest, O my God, for even then Thou wast my keeper, with what emotion of mind and with what faith I solicited from the piety of my mother, and of Thy Church, the mother of us all, the baptism of Thy Christ, my Lord and my God. On which, the mother of my flesh being much troubled,—since she, with a heart pure in Thy faith, travailed in birth 162 more lovingly for my eternal salvation,—would, had I not quickly recovered, have without delay provided for my initiation and washing by Thy life-giving sacraments, confessing Thee, O Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins. So my cleansing was deferred, as if I must needs, should I live, be further polluted; because, indeed, the guilt contracted by sin would, after baptism, be greater and more perilous. 163 Thus I at that time believed with my mother and the whole house, except my father; yet he did not overcome the influence of my mothers piety in me so as to prevent my believing in Christ, as he had not yet believed in Him. For she was desirous that Thou, O my God, shouldst be my Father rather than he; and in this Thou didst aid her to overcome her husband, to whom, though the better of the two, she yielded obedience, because in this she yielded obedience to Thee, who dost so command.
18. I beseech Thee, my God, I would gladly know, if it be Thy will, to what end my baptism was then deferred? Was it for my good that the reins were slackened, as it were, upon me for me to sin? Or were they not slackened? If not, whence comes it that it is still dinned into our ears on all sides, “Let him alone, let him act as he likes, for he is not yet baptized”? But as regards bodily health, no one exclaims, “Let him be more seriously wounded, for he is not yet cured!” How much better, then, had it been for me to have been cured at once; and then, by my own and my friends diligence, my souls restored health had been kept safe in Thy keeping, who gavest it! Better, in truth. But how numerous and great waves of temptation appeared to hang over me after my childhood! These were foreseen by my mother; and she preferred that the unformed clay should be exposed to them rather than the image itself.
“A rite in the Western churches, on admission as a catechumen, previous to baptism, denoting the purity and uncorruptedness and discretion required of Christians. See S. Aug. De Catechiz. rudib. c. 26; Concil. Carth. 3, can. 5; and Liturgies in Assem. Cod. Liturg. t. i.”—E. B. P. See also vi. 1, note, below.50:162
Baptism was in those days frequently (and for similar reasons to the above) postponed till the hour of death approached. The doctors of the Church endeavoured to discourage this, and persons baptized on a sick-bed (“clinically”) were, if they recovered, looked on with suspicion. The Emperor Constantine was not baptized till the close of his life, and he is censured by Dr. Newman (Arians iii. sec. 1) for presuming to speak of questions which divided the Arians and the Orthodox as “unimportant,” while he himself was both unbaptized and uninstructed. On the postponing of baptism with a view to unrestrained enjoyment of the world, and on the severity of the early Church towards sins committed after baptism, see Kayes Tertullian, pp. 234–241.