corner graphic

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Bathing

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

The common use of baths throughout the Roman empire presented to Christian converts a special difficulty and danger. Yet, as the employment was not a forbidden one, Christians would be found to enter on it and reform its evils. The public baths at Rome, which were established by emperors or placed under magisterial control, were free from the grosser evils of the mixture of the two sexes; and many of the emperors, who were, more or less, under the influence of a higher culture, sought to check them. Though the practice is but little noticed unless where its accompaniment calls for censure, it appears that the most devout Christians did not think it necessary to abstain from the public bath. It was in the "baths" of Ephesus that John encountered Cerinthus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 3, 38). Tertullian, with all his austerity, acknowledged that bathing was necessary for health, and that he practised it himself (Apol. 42). Clement of Alexandria lays down rules, half medical and half moral, for its use (Paedag. 3, 9). It formed part of the complaints of the Christians of Lugdunum and Vienna, and was mentioned by them as the first sign of the change for the worse in their treatment, that they were excluded from the public baths (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. v, 1). Augustine narrates how on his mother's death he had gone to the bath to assuage his sorrow, and found it fruitless (Confes. 9:32). The old evils, however, continued to prevail, probably in worse forms in the provinces than in the capital. Epiphanius mentions mixed baths as common among the Jews of his time (Haer. 30). Clement describes the mixture of the sexes as occurring in the daily life of Alexandria (Paedag. 3, 5); Cyprian (De Cult. Virg. p. 73) and Ambrose (De Off. 1, 18) both plead against it with an earnestness which shows that it was a danger for Christians as well as heathens. It was even necessary, after the conversion of the empire, to forbid, under pain of deposition, the clergy of all orders from frequenting baths where the sexes were thus mingled. Offending laymen were in like manner to come under sentence of excommunication. Gradually the better feeling prevailed, and the "mixed baths" fell into a disrepute like that of houses of ill-fame.

It was reckoned a justifiable cause of divorce for a wife to have been seen in one. Traces meet us here and there of a distinctly liturgical use of bathing, analogous to the ablutions of Jewish worshippers and priests, as preliminary to solemn religiouls acts, and in particular to baptism. The practice existed among the Essenes, and there may probably be a reference to it in the "washed with pure water" of Hebrews 10:22. Tertullian condemns as superstitious what he describes as the common custom of washing the whole body before every act of prayer (De Orat. 11). In Western Africa there was a yet stranger usage, which Augustine characterizes as "pagan," of going to the sea on the feast of St. John the Baptist, and bathing as in his honor (Serm. 199). As preparatory to baptism, it was, however, recognised. The catechumens who were to be admitted at Easter had during the long quadragesimal fast abstained from the use of the bath; and there was some risk in such cases, when large numbers were gathered together for baptism by immersion, and stripped in the presence of the Church, of offensive uncleanliness. The bath was therefore brought into use, and the balneator attended with his strigil, and his flask of oil and his towels, after the usual fashion. This implies that the employment was lawful for Christians to engage in. Probably for this purpose, as well as for the use, of priests before they celebrated the eucharist, Constantine constructed baths within the precincts of the great church which he built at Constantinople. They were recognized as important, if not essential, appendages to the more statelv churches, and were entitled to the same privileges of asylum. Popes and bishops followed the imperial example, and constructed baths in Rome, in Pavia, in Ravenna, and in Naples. (See BATHS).


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Bathing'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/b/bathing.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology