INFANT BAPTISM AND THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS
One of the many differences between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches, particularly, the “Bible” Churches, is in regard to the Catholic Church baptizing infants. The Protestant claim is, that infants and small children should not be baptized until they have reached the “age of reason”, usually age seven or older. We as Catholics believe, that although an infant is not guilty of personal sin, an infant, as in all mankind, is carrying original sin, and must be baptized for the remission of that sin.
The “Bible” Churches say that no where in the Bible is there any instance of an infant being baptized, which is true. Yet, it is also true, that nowhere in the Bible is there any indication of a child in a believing home, being baptized after they had reached the “age of reason”. In fact, there is no explicit evidence in the Bible of baptism of infants or later as children among the believers. There are several examples in the Bible of entire households of new believers being baptized, and it would be rather silly at the least to assume that this would not have included infants.(Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, 1 Cor. 1:16) Also, let us not forget, that Saint Luke in his Gospel, tells us that even little infants were brought to Jesus, in Luke 18: 15-16:People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, "Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”. When we baptize infants, indeed we bring them to Jesus!
There was no argument or misunderstanding regarding infant baptism until the Reformation. Further, the Early Church Fathers were keenly aware of the necessity of infant baptism, and their only argument was in regards as to the necessity of waiting until eight days after the newborns birth as required for circumcision (see Leviticus12:2-3). Baptism replaced circumcision, as circumcision cannot save, yet baptism through water and the Word of God, cleanses a person of all sin, and sanctifies a person in Christ to everlasting life. Further, through baptism an infant receives sanctifying grace, the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Now, let us see what the Early Fathers of the Church, such as Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Origen, and Augustine had to say about infant baptism:
"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 . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age" (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).
"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 21:16 [A.D. 215]).
"Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous" (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]).
"The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).
Cyprian of Carthage:
"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" (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).
"If, in the case of the worst sinners and those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he [an infant] approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another" (ibid., 64:5).
"What the universal Church holds, not as instituted [invented] by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:24:31 [A.D. 400]).
"The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic" (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).
"Cyprian was not issuing a new decree but was keeping to the most solid belief of the Church in order to correct some who thought that infants ought not be baptized before the eighth day after their birth. . . . He agreed with certain of his fellow bishops that a child is able to be duly baptized as soon as he is born" (Letters 166:8:23 [A.D. 412]).
"By this grace baptized infants too are ingrafted into his [Christ’s] body, infants who certainly are not yet able to imitate anyone. Christ, in whom all are made alive . . . gives also the most hidden grace of his Spirit to believers, grace which he secretly infuses even into infants. . . . It is an excellent thing that the Punic [North African] Christians call baptism salvation and the sacrament of Christ’s Body nothing else than life. Whence does this derive, except from an ancient and, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture, too. . . . If anyone wonders why children born of the baptized should themselves be baptized, let him attend briefly to this. . . . The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration" (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:9:10; 1:24:34; 2:27:43 [A.D. 412]).
Copyright © 2005 Steve Smith. All rights reserved.