Tertillian, Baptism, and Roman Catholic Last Rites
It is always interesting to track down certain rituals that are practiced under name Christian which have no 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 on their deathbed their last rites.
To find out where this practice came from we have to go back to Tertillian who was a theologian who lived during the second and third century AD. Tertillian was as materialist. Not the kind of materialist we think of today, but the kind of materialist who believes that even spirit, including God himself, is material even 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 the person clean who was being baptized. Thus making baptism part of regeneration.
Tertillian also believed that children should not be baptized. This is why many Baptist 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 getting it back. 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.
Many people in the church were influenced by Tertillian’s beliefs, but they realized that people would still sin even after the age of 30. In order to protect people from sinning and losing their salvation, 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 the Church eventually began to see more scripturally regarding baptism. This correction began to put baptism in a more biblical light which corrected the practice. But something the latin Church never let go of was the need to continue doing some ritual at the deathbed, and this is from where the practice of last rites comes. It all stems from Tertillian’s bad theology regarding baptism.