Thursday, December 21, 2023

Infant Baptism

Why the Catholic Church baptizes infants

The Catholic Church has been baptizing infants ever since Christ commanded His apostles to baptize all people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see Mt 28:18-20). This has always been the practice of the Orthodox churches and of many Protestant denominations as well. But why does the Church baptize babies? Aren't they too young to understand what is happening to them? In this blog post, I will explain the reasons and benefits of infant baptism, as well as the historical and scriptural evidence for this ancient tradition.

Baptism cleanses infants from original sin

One of the main reasons why the Church baptizes infants is to cleanse them from original sin. Original sin is the state of sin inherited by all human beings as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve. It is not a personal sin that we commit, but a condition that affects our nature and makes us prone to sin and death. Original sin also deprives us of the grace of God and the friendship with Him that we were created for. As the psalmist laments: “Indeed, in guilt was I born, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:7).

Baptism is the sacrament that washes away original sin and restores us to God’s grace. It is a sign of God’s love and mercy that He offers us this gift even before we can ask for it or deserve it. Baptism also makes us adopted sons and daughters of God, members of His family, and the Church. As St. Paul says: “For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:26-27).

Baptism introduces children to the Church and salvation

Another reason why the Church baptizes infants is to introduce them to the Church and salvation. Baptism is not only a personal act, but also a communal one. It incorporates us into the Body of Christ, which is the Church, and makes us partakers of His mission and life. Baptism also gives us access to all the other sacraments, which are means of grace and nourishment for our spiritual growth. Baptism is the first step in our journey of faith, which will lead us to eternal life with God.

The Church believes that baptism is necessary for salvation, as Jesus Himself taught: “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). Therefore, the Church does not want to delay or deny this gift to anyone who desires it, especially to children who are most vulnerable and innocent. Remember that Jesus also said to let the children come to Him (Luke 18:15–17; Matthew 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16). 

Why would the early Church deny children baptism if Jesus said to let the children come to Him?  Also note that life expectancy in those days was up to 30 or 40 years, so things had to be done earlier and quicker. This is why Mary herself was so young and married to Joseph.  Moreover, the Church also trusts in God’s mercy and promises for those who die without baptism but still entrusts them to His loving care. This can apply to the Baptism of Blood or Baptism by Desire. These are topics for another post.  

Baptism introduces children to all the other sacraments

The third reason why the Church baptizes infants is to introduce them to all the other sacraments. The sacraments are visible signs instituted by Christ that convey invisible grace to us. They are channels of God’s love and power that help us to live as His disciples and witnesses in the world. The sacraments also strengthen our bond with God and with each other as members of His family.

The first three sacraments are called the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. They initiate us into the Christian life and fully incorporate us into the Church. Baptism is the foundation and gateway to all the other sacraments. Confirmation completes and confirms our baptismal grace and gives us a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, where we receive Christ Himself in His body and blood.

The other four sacraments are called the sacraments of healing and service: penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony. They heal us from our sins and infirmities and enable us to serve God and others in various ways. Penance reconciles us with God and restores us to His grace when we fall into sin after baptism. Anointing of the sick comforts us in our illness and prepares us for our final journey. Holy orders ordain men to serve as bishops, priests, or deacons in the Church. Matrimony unites a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of love that reflects Christ’s love for His bride, the Church.

By baptizing infants, the Church introduces them to all these wonderful gifts that God has prepared for them. The Church also expects that parents and godparents will raise their children in the faith and help them to receive and appreciate these sacraments as they grow up.

Historical evidence for infant baptism

The practice of infant baptism can be traced back to the earliest days of the Church. The Church Fathers, who were the successors of the apostles and the teachers of the faith, unanimously affirmed and defended this tradition. Here are some examples of their testimonies:

- St. Irenaeus (d. 202), a disciple of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the apostle, wrote: “He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age” (Against Heresies 2.22.4).

- St. Hippolytus (d. 235), a priest and martyr, wrote: “Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them” (The Apostolic Tradition 21).

- Origen (d. 254), a theologian and scholar, wrote: “The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. For the apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit” (Commentary on Romans 5.9).

- St. Cyprian (d. 258), a bishop and martyr, wrote: “As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council, it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born” (Letter to Fidus 64.2).

Scriptural evidence for infant baptism

The practice of infant baptism is also supported by the scriptural evidence. Although there is no explicit mention of infant baptism in the Bible, there are several passages that imply or suggest it.

- The Bible shows that baptism replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant between God and His people. Circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of God’s promise and was administered to male infants on the eighth day after birth (see Gen 17:9-14). Baptism is the new circumcision that applies to both males and females and is administered as soon as possible after birth. St. Paul says: “In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with him in baptism” (Col 2:11-12).

- The Bible shows that baptism is connected to faith, but not limited by it. Faith is a gift from God that enables us to believe and trust in Him. Faith is also a response from us that requires our cooperation and consent. However, faith is not a prerequisite for baptism, but rather a result of it. Baptism gives us the grace to believe and grow in faith, as well as the responsibility to live according to our faith. Therefore, baptism can be given to infants based on the faith of their parents and godparents, who promise to raise them in the faith until they can profess it for themselves.

- The Bible shows that baptism is for all people, including children. Jesus commissioned His apostles to baptize all nations, without excluding anyone (see Mt 28:19). Jesus also welcomed children and blessed them, saying: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14). The Bible also records several examples of household baptisms, where entire families were baptized together upon the conversion of one member (see Acts 16:15,33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16). These households most likely included children and infants as well.

In closing, Infant Baptism has always been practiced in Christianity. There is no way to deny this based on Scripture, Tradition, and historical documentation. The Baptism of children including babies or infants made total sense in light of Jesus' command to baptize all and his desire that the children come to Him.  There is no asterisk in Jesus' words.  The command was inclusive to all those who wanted to follow Christ and fulfill the requirements of being a Christian. Children could not be exempt from this as it would contradict Christ's will and words.  Yes, the unborn and born children are innocent per se. They have not done any actual sin, yet, but they are tarnished with Original Sin which must be removed. 

So please continue to bring your infants to be baptized. It is what Christ willed and the Catholic Church has done since her founding by Jesus over 2,000 years ago.  

What do you think? Post your comment below on Disqus.  Be sure to follow the rules so your comment can go through.  




Sources

- Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1213-1284.

- Simply Catholic - Why Does the Church Baptize Babies?

- Catholic Education Resource Center - Why Does the Catholic Church Baptize Babies?

- Catholics & Bible - Why Does The Catholic Church Baptize Infants?

- Baby Journey - Why Do You Baptize A Baby?

- Catholic Answers - Why We Baptize Babies

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