On Baptism by Tertullian
Chapter III.--Water Chosen as a Vehicle of Divine Operation and Wherefore Its Prominence First of All in Creation.
Mindful of this declaration as of a conclusive prescript, we nevertheless proceed to treat the question, |How foolish and impossible it is to be formed anew by water. In what respect, pray, has this material substance merited an office of so high dignity?| The authority, I suppose, of the liquid element has to be examined. This however, is found in abundance, and that from the very beginning. For water is one of those things which, before all the furnishing of the world, were quiescent with God in a yet unshapen state. |In the first beginning,| saith Scripture, |God made the heaven and the earth. But the earth was invisible, and unorganized, and darkness was over the abyss; and the Spirit of the Lord was hovering over the waters.| The first thing, O man, which you have to venerate, is the age of the waters in that their substance is ancient; the second, their dignity, in that they were the seat of the Divine Spirit, more pleasing to Him, no doubt, than all the other then existing elements. For the darkness was total thus far, shapeless, without the ornament of stars; and the abyss gloomy; and the earth unfurnished; and the heaven unwrought: water alone -- always a perfect, gladsome, simple material substance, pure in itself -- supplied a worthy vehicle to God. What of the fact that waters were in some way the regulating powers by which the disposition of the world thenceforward was constituted by God? For the suspension of the celestial firmament in the midst He caused by |dividing the waters;| the suspension of |the dry land| He accomplished by |separating the waters.| After the world had been hereupon set in order through its elements, when inhabitants were given it, |the waters| were the first to receive the precept |to bring forth living creatures.| Water was the first to produce that which had life, that it might be no wonder in baptism if waters know how to give life. For was not the work of fashioning man himself also achieved with the aid of waters? Suitable material is found in the earth, yet not apt for the purpose unless it be moist and juicy; which (earth) |the waters,| separated the fourth day before into their own place, temper with their remaining moisture to a clayey consistency. If, from that time onward, I go forward in recounting universally, or at more length, the evidences of the |authority| of this element which I can adduce to show how great is its power or its grace; how many ingenious devices, how many functions, how useful an instrumentality, it affords the world, I fear I may seem to have collected rather the praises of water than the reasons of baptism; although I should thereby teach all the more fully, that it is not to be doubted that God has made the material substance which He has disposed throughout all His products and works, obey Him also in His own peculiar sacraments; that the material substance which governs terrestrial life acts as agent likewise in the celestial.