Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Monday, October 24, 2005

I am rubbing my claws together with delight over this news. Granted, it means that I will have to read like the wind to be ready so that I can be caught up with all the other writings of the Holy Father that are available in English.

Dear Father Tharp,
Why do we baptize babies? There is nothing anywhere in the Bible about babies being baptized or anything in Church History that I can find. Baptism was always something that came after conversion. Baptism is not what saves us, it is what we do after we are saved, is it not?
Kathy Woncom
Edmond, OK

If Baptism is not what saves us, then St. Peter is a mite confused when he professes “Baptism...saves you now” (I Peter 3:20-21). The opinion you present, Kathy, is one typical of our separated brethren of the Anabaptist stripe. Because the emphasis is placed with these denominations upon “salvation by faith alone,” nothing else can be permitted to be the agent of salvation. So, in fact, there are two questions here: is Baptism merely symbolic of an act of conversion and why would one baptize infants?

I think that the confusion on this first question comes from a misunderstanding of sequence of effects. For instance, if your tooth hurts you, you promptly go to the dentist who then performs his ministrations and alleviates the problem. Now, you wouldn’t say that your acknowledgment of the toothache is what cured you. You would say, “the toothache led me to seek out the one who could solve the problem.” Thus, both your insight and the work of the dentist are needed. This, by way of analogy, occurs here in Baptism as well.

You rightly note that before Baptism came the preaching of the Gospel. The pain of soul that comes from the darkness of sin and the sorrow over being separated from God is analogous to the tooth pain which leads you to the dentist. The Gospel helps us to acknowledge that God has sent the Son to save us from exactly this pain of soul. Through the Church’s administration of Baptism, the actual problem is solved: Baptism cleanses us from Original Sin and for anyone beyond the age of reason, personal Sin as well.

As for biblical testimony to these ideas we first turn to John 3:5 in which Jesus explains to Nicodemus that being born again comes from water and the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself makes Baptism a condition for entering Heaven (cf. Mark 16:16). In Acts of the Apostles, Peter solemnly proclaims to those gathered in Jerusalem that Baptism provides forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38). St. Paul follows this up with his own testimony first in the Letter to the Romans where he states the new life in Christ comes through Baptism (Romans 6:4) and later in Titus, we are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). From here we can better see the logic of baptizing infants.

All of us, excepting Our Lord and Our Lady, are born under the effects of Original Sin. This sin separates us from God and until it is remitted we are not part of His Kingdom (cf. Rom. 5:18-19). Through Baptism, even the infant begins to taste the gift of eternal life. The Baptism of infants truly points up the gratuitous nature of salvation. The infant provides nothing to earn God’s grace. The infant must depend upon the faith of his parents to lead him to conversion, but this doesn’t render the sacrament ineffective. Rather, it fulfills Jesus’ own admonition to let the children come unto Him (cf. Mark 10:14).

While there are no explicit commands to baptize infants in the Bible, it is more telling that there are no explicit commands not to baptize infants to found in the Bible either. On the contrary, we hear in the Bible how the Apostles often would baptize entire households and logically this would include infants (Acts 16:15, 33; I Cor 1:16). More to the point, the Bible never reports the Apostles saying “We baptized everyone but the infants; they would have to wait.”
As for Church History’s testimony, a quick spin through the Church Fathers should provide some evidence. St. Justin Martyr (ca.155 AD) acknowledges no other way to salvation except through Baptism. Tertullian also notes that some in his own day suggest deferring Baptism, adult and infant alike, because of the serious obligations Baptism imposes. If the early Church were not baptizing infants, then Tertullian need not make this observation. Origen explicitly mentions that the practice of baptizing infants in of apostolic origin in his Commentary on Romans (ca. 244 AD).

In conclusion, we might also consider a certain type of fittingness for baptism of infants. In the Old Testament, infant boys were circumcised eight days after birth so that they would be enrolled in the people of the Covenant of Abraham. Now that that covenant is fulfilled in Christ, why would God want us to separate the child from the fulfillment, when in previous ages, the child was enrolled immediately in that which was merely preparation?