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Catholic Apologetics

Chapter 13 -- Baptism

CCC 1213 - Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."

This is the Catholic summary of the sacrament of Baptism. The Catholic Church professes that Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life. Once you are baptized, all else is possible. We are freed from sin, we enter into the Body of Christ and the life in the Spirit, we are born again, we can receive the other sacraments.

We begin by knowing the basics of what the Catholic Church teaches, and compare that to non-Catholic challenges.

Mark 16:15-16 - He said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned."

Those were Jesus' parting words to the Apostles in Mark's Gospel. Here are Jesus' parting words to the Apostles in Matthew's Gospel:

Mt 28:18-20 - Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

We see a pattern of emphasis by Jesus regarding baptism. In the final moments of Jesus' appearance on Earth, He gave the Apostles their commissions to go into the world and baptize.

Nearly all Christian faiths recognize the importance of baptism. Differences of opinion center around why perform the ritual (forgiveness of sins, receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit, initiation into the Body of Christ, or just a ritual for no particular benefit), when to perform the ritual (infant v. adult baptisms), and how to perform the ritual (sprinkling of water, pouring water over the head, dunking the entire body under water). We will look at these differences in turn.

Why Baptize?

1 Pet 3:18-22 - For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Peter tells us baptism saves us. We baptize and are baptized for our salvation. It is an appeal to God for a clear conscience. The stain of original sin is washed away, opening us to Christ's redemptive work.

Mt 3:11 - I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist baptized with water for repentance. And he predicted Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 - Peter (said) to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."

Peter states your sins are forgiven when you are baptized.

An interesting argument could be raised here. Is baptism solely the entrance into the Body of Christ, and is it being a member of the Body of Christ that allows for the forgiveness of sins, or does baptism itself wash the recipient's sins away?

Acts 22:12-16 - "A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law, and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me and stood there and said, 'Saul, my brother, regain your sight.' And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.

Then he said, 'The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice; for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard. Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.'

When Saul (Paul) converted, and while he was still blind, Christ sent Ananias to him. Note, although He certainly had the power to do so, Jesus did not just cure Paul Himself; He wanted another member of the Body of Christ to perform an outward sign. And, Saul could not go to just anyone to be baptized; he had to go to someone chosen by Jesus Himself. Both these things comply perfectly with the Catholic understanding of sacraments.

Ananias spoke, and Paul regained his sight. Ananias, following God's will, instructed Saul that his first act must be to get baptized. This corroborates an outward sign (baptism) is the initiation into the Body of Christ. In the same sentence Ananias tells Saul when he is baptized, his sins will be washed away. So we see baptism initiates the Christian and washes sins away.

Rom 6:1-4 - What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not! How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

Note that once your sins are forgiven, it does not mean all future sins are forgiven as well. Paul makes it clear we cannot persist in sin.

Jn 3:1-22 - Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?" Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.

Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Nicodemus answered and said to him, "How can this happen?" Jesus answered and said to him, "You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, in fact one of their leaders. It is interesting to note that the name Nicodemus means "people crusher", or "one who crushes people". That certainly reflects the way Jesus felt the Pharisees treated the Jews.

This is a lengthy dissertation that touches on many aspects of Christian life, including baptism. The Greek words used can mean "born again" or "born from above". Jesus plays on both meanings when talking with Nicodemus.

He tells Nicodemus that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Born of water refers to baptism by water. One enters into the covenant through water baptism. Born of Spirit refers to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. One receives the anointing of the Holy Spirit through baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church preaches that both occur simultaneously. See CCC 1262. When you receive baptism, you enter into the new covenant, your sins are forgiven and you receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

And note that immediately after this discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus went with His disciples and spent time with them baptizing. This is to suggest Jesus considered baptism significant, and the Word of God makes a special note of it. It does not appear to be a casual ritual of no particular importance-it is in the path of our salvation.

Also note that Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. Does 'no one' include infants and children below the age of reason?

Acts 10:44-49 - While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter responded, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?" He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for a few days.

Can you receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit before you are baptized? The gifts of the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentiles before they received the baptism by water. Peter even says baptism by water cannot be withheld from them since they received the Holy Spirit first. He then ordered them to be baptized. This substantiates the distinction between baptism by water and anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Tit 3:4-7 - But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Paul restates the concept of two baptisms when he states bath of rebirth (water baptism) and renewal by the Holy Spirit (baptism of the Holy Spirit). He also reiterates that baptism frees us of Original Sin so we might be justified by the grace of Jesus, and become children of God. See CCC 1263.

1 Cor 12:13 - For in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we are all given to drink of one Spirit.

Paul tells us we are baptized into one body, which he calls the Body of Christ. As we shall see below, baptism is the initiation into the Body of Christ that seals the new and everlasting covenant with God.

Gal 3:26-29 - 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. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendant, heirs according to the promise.

Paul settles the issue for gentiles. Baptism makes us all children of God. The Jew is no better than the gentile. See also Col 3:11.

When Paul speaks of "clothed yourselves with Christ", that is often translated literally as "put on Christ". He uses this same imagery in Rom13:14, Eph 4:24 and Col 3:10, which he may have paraphrased from Job 29:14 or Isaiah 59:17. In essence, it is similar to wearing a "Jesus" robe that hides the prejudiced self and shows the Christian heritage instead. Much like circumcision did in the old covenant, baptism signifies your equality as a child of God.

Col 2:11-13 - 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, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And even when you were dead (in) transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions

Gal 6:15 - For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.

Paul confirms baptism replaces physical circumcision. Baptism is the circumcision of Christ not administered by hand. Christ brings us to life through baptism, forgiving all our transgressions. Circumcision does not mean anything anymore, baptism replaces it.

2 Cor 5:17 - So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.

When to Baptize?

This brings us to another issue. When were Jews circumcised? They were circumcised on the eighth day--one week after birth, thus they were infants. God did not demand the Jews to be of an age of reason before they were brought into the old covenant, and He does not demand Christians to be an age of reason when they are brought into the new covenant. There is nothing in Scriptures to refute infant baptism or suggest an adult-only baptism. Requiring a convert to be at the age of reason is a man-made tradition, not the written Word of God. The Catholic Church preaches baptism of infants.

Let's revisit Acts Chapter 2:

Acts 2:38-39 - Peter (said) to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call."

Peter told his audience the promise of baptism is made to children as well.

Acts 16:27-31 - One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, "If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home," and she prevailed on us.

Here we see another theme prevalent in Scriptures. It says she "and her household" were baptized. We see this quite often in the New Testament. See 1 Cor 1:16, Acts 11:13-14, Acts 16:30-32, Acts 18:8. It is unreasonable to suppose there were no children in any of these households. Indeed, given the proclivity for Jews to circumcise their infants, it was probable the baptized households included children and infants.

Mark 10:13-14 - And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these".

If Jesus demanded to let the children come to Him, and if He stated the kingdom of God belonged to them, is it reasonable to expect Jesus wanted children baptized?

Some may question how a child under the age of reason can make an act of faith in order to receive baptism. The Catholic Church preaches the child's parents can act on their own faith for the benefit of the child. There are no verses in Scripture that speak directly to substituting the faith of another to receive baptism, but the Bible does show, often, how the faith of one directly benefits another. Consider the following:

Mark 2:3-5 - They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."

Note that the paralytic never spoke. It was the faith of the other four men that swayed Jesus to act. Again:

Mt 8:5-13 - When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully." He said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you." And at that very hour (his) servant was healed.

Here again, the paralyzed servant never appeared before Jesus; it was the centurion's faith that saved him. So, too, a parent's faith can save a child.

We note, too, that there is nothing in Scriptures to suggest one had to achieve the age of reasoning before being baptized. This is a tradition of men, not supported in Scripture, brought by human reasoning alone.

CCC 1261 - As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

How to Baptize

We saw from several examples above that water is an essential ingredient in baptism. There is some question as to how one should baptize. Let's explore this idea.

Reading through all the verses on baptism shown above, nothing definitively states how one is to baptize. In Acts 10:44-49, Peter states "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?" This suggests that water is in some way carried to the recipient, in as much as it can be withheld, but it is not conclusive so as to eliminate immersion as a possible method.

To baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse". The "plunge" into the water symbolizes the repentant's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as a new creature. This suggests immersion is a possible method.

We must seek other sources to confirm the truth. In the Old Testament we find:

Ezek 36:25-27 - I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.

This mirrors baptism in many ways. God says He will sprinkle water on us to cleanse us from our impurities. This sounds a lot like baptism. He will give us a new heart and place a new spirit within us. This sounds a lot like baptism. This is the Old Testament precursor to New Testament baptism. This would suggest sprinkling of water as a possible method.

The Didache, also called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is one of the earliest Christian manuscripts not accepted into the canon of Scripture. It is purported to be the actual rules set down by the Apostles themselves. The earliest complete text is thought to be written around 140AD or so, meaning the rules existed for quite some time before that. Although it is not considered divinely inspired, it is nonetheless historically accurate of how the early Christians lived. It reads in part:

Didache - In regard to Baptism - baptize thus: After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water; and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before the Baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days.

This seems to suggest there are several methods to baptize, and that is what the Catholic Church holds. The Church states one may baptize by sprinkling of water, or by pouring over the head three times, or by immersion. All are acceptable methods. In practice, sprinkling is almost never used, pouring on the head is often used with infants, and immersion is often used with older children and adults.

Consider, as well, there is no Scriptural support for the alternative. Nothing in the Bible demands, or even prefers baptism by immersion. To claim immersion is the only acceptable method is a tradition of men brought through human reasoning alone.

Instituted By Christ

The Catholic Church teaches all sacraments are instituted by Christ. We find this in one of the first verses quoted in this chapter, Mt 28:18-20, where Jesus commissions the Apostles to go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Parting Comment

The Catechism sums it up nicely:

CCC 1276-1284 - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20).

Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord's will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism.

The essential rite of Baptism consists in immersing the candidate in water or pouring water on his head, while pronouncing the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ.

Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship. Because of the character Baptism cannot be repeated (cf. DS 1609 and DS 1624).

Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized (cf. LG 16).

Since the earliest times, Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.

With respect to children who have died without Baptism, the liturgy of the Church invites us to trust in God's mercy and to pray for their salvation.

In case of necessity, any person can baptize provided that he have the intention of doing that which the Church does and provided that he pours water on the candidate's head while saying: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

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