Tertillian, Baptism, and Roman Catholic Last Rites


It is always interesting to track down certain rituals that are practiced under the name Christian which do not have their founding in scripture, in order to find out where they originated. One specific ritual worth looking into is the Roman Catholic practice of giving someone their last rites.

To find out why this practice began we have to go back to Tertillian who was a theologian who lived during the second and third century AD. Tertillian was a materialist. Not the kind of materialist we think of today, but the kind of materialist who believes that even spirit is material, including God Himself, though it was clearly a higher more refined type of material. This is close to what Mormons believe even today.

This played heavily into his views on baptism. Tertillian believed that the more refined spirit matter could bond quite well with the lower types of matter such as water. So when a person was baptized, the Holy Spirit would bond with the water and somehow wash clean the person who was being baptized. Thus making baptism part of regeneration.

Tertillian also believed that children should not be baptized. This is why many Baptists like to point to him in the early church, but the reason he did not think children should be baptized had nothing to do with Baptist beliefs as they are held today. Tertillian believed that once you were baptized you could no longer sin. If you did sin willingly, you would loose your salvation and have no chance of redemption. Thus you should not baptize children because they are certainly going to sin as they grow up. So Tertillian suggested that a person wait until they were about 30 years old before being baptized.

During this time many people in the church were influenced by Tertillian’s beliefs, but they also realized that people would still sin even after the age of 30.  So in order to protect people from sinning and losing their salvation, many in the church started performing deathbed baptisms. This is why Constantine was not baptized until the end of his life, if you’ve looked into his history.

Needless to say, those who held this view eventually began reject some of these ideas in order to return to a more Biblical understanding. But something of which the latin Church never let go was the desire to continue doing some ritual at the deathbed, and this is where the practice of last rites comes in. It all stems from Tertillian’s aberrant theology regarding baptism.


In order to give credit where credit is due,  much of this information was gleaned from a Church history lecture by Dr. Gerald Bray from Beeson Seminary.

8 thoughts on “Tertillian, Baptism, and Roman Catholic Last Rites

  1. Not true. Always was, and its practice is taught in James 5:14-15. Can’t get any clearer than that. Please do a little more digging next time you try to discredit the church. The opening to your article states: “It is always interesting to track down certain rituals that are practiced under the name Christian which do not have their founding in scripture, in order to find out where they originated.” again, James 5:14-15


  2. Tony,

    If the last rights were merely the anointing with oil and praying for the sick found in James 5:14-15 we could say that it is found in those passages, but the Roman organization has altered this practice into something quite different.

    By attempting to turn the practice spoken of in James 5 into a sacrament that further justifies a person before God and remits the sins they committed after baptism so they will not have to pay for them in purgatory (or hell if they are mortal sins), makes its something that follows from Tertillian’s aberrant theology and something completely foreign to the text.



  3. Doug your disrepect has no ends. ritual?, Roman organization? aberrant theology? I’d say those Chick tracts that you first comment on are alive and well in your own subconscious.

    Q. How do you know scripture is inspire? who tells you so?
    Q. Where does scripture come from? how did you receive it?
    Q. Which came first the Christian Church or Christian scripture?

    and finally

    where does Catholicism explain purgatory is a forgiveness of sins?

    less talk and more learning would do well.


  4. Q. How do you know scripture is inspired? who tells you so?
    A. Scripture itself tells us it is inspired…
    2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God. As we wrestle with it and reason with it we find that it is true. Especially as the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and minds as we read it. We recognize its authority.

    Q. Where does scripture come from? how did you receive it?
    A. Again according to Scripture, it was given by inspiration of God. Men like Paul, Matthew etc. wrote them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it has been preserved through the ages by Christians under the providence of God.

    Q. Which came first the Christian Church or Christian scripture?
    A. Scripture tells us that the apostle and prophets who where part of the Church wrote the scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Which according to scripture means that the church was here first.

    Here would be my questions for you…

    Q. How do you know that when the Church tells you Scripture is inspired that it is actually true?
    Q. Since we no longer have access to the apostles and prophets who wrote scripture, except through Scripture itself, and the church is built upon their foundation, what must be the final arbitor of truth on spiritual matters.
    Q. Now that the foundation has been laid, how do you tell if the Church is correct or in error?
    Q. Finally when the Church (specifically Paul) was preaching to the Bereans, what did he commend them for doing (Acts 17:11)?



  5. Tony and Kevin,

    It would serve both of you well to read your Catechism of the Catholic Church. It clearly states that Purgatory exists which is mentioned nowhere in the Holy Bible unless you consider Dante’s The Divine Comedy actual Scripture. As Doug alluded to, read 2 Timothy 3:16. Do we also forget that the origins of the Catholic Church are Roman. I do believe the Catholic Church is referred to as the Holy Roman Apostolic Church. It appears that Catholicism has adopted a lot of pagan rituals into their belief structure. I’m sure you are familiar with history and the way the Spaniards changed the appearances of the idols depicting Jesus and Mary to conform to indigenous thought and beliefs. I was a former Catholic so I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to Catholic beliefs and doctrines. Ask me any questions as i think this would be an interesting dialogue in which we can all learn from each other and turn to Christ, not to Mary, for forgiveness and salvation.

    God Bless You Brothers in Christ,


  6. Tertillian got one thing right that Calvin and Luther go wrong. The free agency/free will of human beings.

    Even the Archangel in Heaven had a free will which allowed him to confront Almighty God and He found ‘iniquity in him.’ Then the Lord cast his evil spirit and other demons down to earth [I John 5:19].


  7. Can someone please post on how to say the last rights. I’ve looked every where and no one seems to know how to say them. Seriously though you do need to look into things more before typing something.


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