St. Chrysostom, speaking of baptism, says, Men were naked as Adam in paradise; but with this difference; Adam was naked because he had sinned, but in baptism, a man was naked that he might be freed from sin; the one was divested of his glory which he once had, but the other put off the old man, which he did as easily as his clothes.
St. Ambrose says, Men came as naked to the font, as they came into the world; and thence he draws an argument by way of illusion, to rich men, telling them, how absurd it was, that a man was born naked of his mother, and received naked by the church, should think of going rich into heaven.
Cyril of Jerusalem takes notice of the circumstance, together with the reasons of it, when he thus addresses himself to persons newly baptized:
As soon as ye came into the inner part of the baptistry, ye put off your clothes, which is an emblem of putting off the old man with his deeds; and being thus divested, ye stood naked, imitating Christ, that was naked upon the cross, who by his nakedness spoiled principalities and powers, publicly triumphing over them in the cross. O wonderful thing! ye were naked, imitating the first Adam, that was naked in paradise, and was not ashamed. So also Amphilochius in the Life of St. Basil, speaking of his baptism, says, He arose with fear and put off his clothes, and with them the old man. . . (Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 758, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1973).
According to Rev. Rousas J. Rushdoony, a conservative Reformed theologian:
Since baptism meant in part the believers' death and rebirth or resurrection in Christ, it was very early associated with the Easter season, although not exclusively so. This same aspect, rebirth, led to an interesting custom which survived for some centuries as basic to baptism, namely, baptism, usually by immersion, in the nude.
Sprinkling and immersion were both used by the church, which recognized sprinkling, after Ezekiel 36:25, as the mark of the new covenant. Aspersion was also very early a common practice. The emphasis on death and rebirth led to a stress on immersion as symbolically representative of this fact. Men were born naked; hence, they were reborn naked in baptism. No works of the unregenerate man could be carried into heaven; therefore, the candidate symbolically stripped himself of all clothing to indicate that he had nothing save God's grace.
There were two baptistries thus in churches for some generations, since men and women were baptized separately. Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 were passages cited to confirm this practice of symbolic burial and resurrection.
This practice of naked baptism indicates how seriously the Biblical symbolism was taken by the early church; nothing was avoided, and sometimes over-literal applications resulted.
Umberto Fasola of The Christian Catacombs of Rome indicates that their catacombs show Christians being baptized in the nude. The Jews, in their parallel rite of proselyte baptism, insisted upon this to such an extent that "a ring on the finger, a band confining the hair, or anything that in the least degree broke the continuity of contact with the water, was held to invalidate the act" (C. Taylor, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Cambridge, 1886, pp. 51, 52).
The allusions of the early Fathers imply a like nudity in their method of celebrating the Christian rite (Bingham, Origines, XI, xi, 1; DCA, i, 160).
According to the Australian EJournal of Theology:
Just prior to entering the water the candidates removed their clothes, for the baptism was received nude. This surprises moderns, for we wonder about modesty. This may be a consideration in the instructions of the Apostolic Tradition (21.4-5) to baptize the small children first, the grown men next, and finally the women. In order to observe decency women deacons assisted at the baptism of women according to the third-century Didascalia (16), repeated in the 4th century Apostolic Constitutions (3.15-16).
In the baptism of a woman, the male presbyter anointed the forehead, pronounced the formula, and dipped the head, but the female deacon anointed the body and received the woman as she came out of the water. Some baptisteries may have had curtains.
Another factor is that the ancient world seems to have had a more relaxed attitude toward nudity.
The nudity expressed the idea of new birth- hence in art the baptizand is shown not only nude but smaller than the baptizer. This manner of representation is not an indication of infant or child baptism but follows artistic convention. The newly baptized person put on a white garment, symbolizing purity.
(INAUGURAL ISSUE - AUGUST 2003. ISSN 1448 - 6326)