Chapter 13 -- Baptism
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.
Those were Jesus' parting words to the Apostles in Mark's Gospel. Here are Jesus' parting words to the Apostles in Matthew's Gospel:
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.
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.
John the Baptist baptized with water for repentance. And he predicted Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Peter told his audience the promise of baptism is made to children as well.
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.
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:
Note that the paralytic never spoke. It was the faith of the other four men that swayed Jesus to act. Again:
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.
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:
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:
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.
The Catechism sums it up nicely:
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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