In our last post we discussed the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In this post we want to look at the sacrament of Baptism. What is the Catholic view of baptism? Is baptism necessary for salvation? What are its effects? Can baptism be repeated?
Baptism is one of the sacraments of initiation. It is the first sacrament a person receives. In many (though not all) Protestant denominations, baptism is received when a person is old enough to make a conscious commitment to Jesus Christ. This is sometimes referred to as “believer’s baptism”. Because many Protestant denominations do not believe in original sin, they don’t see the necessity of having an infant baptized. They believe that baptism is for those who are old enough to commit their lives to Jesus. This, however, is not the Catholic view.
The Catholic view is that every human being is born with sin on his soul. This sin is called original sin. In Catholicism we believe in two types of sin. The first is original sin, which we are born with. The second type of sin is actual sin. In the Baltimore Catechism for children actual sin is defined as “sin we ourselves commit”. In other words, actual sin is a willful breaching of one or more of the laws of God. Original sin is different.
Original sin is not, properly-speaking, sin. One of the most common objections to original sin is that babies are innocent of any wrongdoing. They aren’t old enough, or intelligent enough, to commit sin. How could anyone attribute sin to an infant? In addition, God does not impute the sin of a parent to the children. So how could an infant inherit sin?
Again, original sin is not sin in the sense that actual sin is sin. It isn’t that the infant has does anything wrong. When Adam and Eve were created they were created in a state of grace. This means they were created in a state of sinlessness. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, then all of their offspring would have inherited their sinless state. All humanity would be conceived in the state of grace. But Adam and Eve sinned before they had offspring. God had warned Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him grace would be removed from their souls. (Gn. 2:16-7) When Adam and Eve disobeyed God they fell from the state of grace. Hence, all of their offspring are likewise conceived without grace.
It’s like when a rich man leaves all of his wealth to his son in his will. But, before he dies, the rich man squanders his wealth. When the rich man dies, will his son inherit anything? No, instead, the rich man’s son may actually be stuck with his father’s debt!
It is the same with original sin. Had Adam and Eve never sinned, we would have inherited their state of grace. Since Adam and Eve sinned before having any offspring, however, we inherit no grace from them. We are conceived without grace. That is what original sin is. It isn’t a stain of guilt. An infant is not guilty of having done anything wrong. It is simply that the infant has nothing to inherit from his parents. Original sin is nothing more than a lack of grace.
Here the Protestant might interject that there is no biblical evidence for infant baptism. It is true that the Bible does not explicitly mention infants being baptized. Yet, such is implied. In Acts 2:41 we see that 3000 people were baptized on Pentecost. Is it not possible that some of these 3000 souls were infants? The Bible does not say infants were there, but it doesn’t say they weren’t either. In Acts 10 Peter baptizes Cornelius and his household. Isn’t it possible that an infant was among the household members who were baptized? In Acts 16 Paul baptizes a prison warden and his family. Isn’t it possible that an infant was among those baptized?
While there may be no explicit mention of infant baptism in Scripture, one can see the implication is there. Furthermore, we can know for certain that some of the earliest Christians not only believed in infant baptism, but practiced it. To discover this, one need look no further than the catacombs. There are paintings there that date extremely early in Christian history which depict scenes of infants being baptized. You can also read what the Church Fathers had to say in favor of infant baptism in William A. Jurgens’ “The Faith of the Early Fathers” Vols. 1-3. One can also look Johannes Quasten’s four volume work “Patrology”.
So baptism is necessary to remove the stain of original sin, and to replace it with what the Catholic Church calls sanctifying grace. This is the grace that makes us children of God, and allows us the opportunity to go to heaven. It also opens our souls up to the reception of other graces that will aid us in living a holy life. The removal of original sin and replacing it with sanctifying grace is the effect of baptism.
Because the result of baptism is the reception of God’s grace, it imprints on our souls what the Church calls an “indelible character”. In baptism God chooses us as His children. He chooses us first. We become children of God. This is the “indelible character”. Since God is the one who makes us His children, we can never remove this character. It is an act of God, and only God could reverse it. But He does not do this. Once we become His children, we are always His children. We can become bad children, or good children; but children we are nonetheless. Because of this, baptism can never be repeated.
Don’t believe that water baptism is necessary for salvation? Well, you need to take a look at what the Bible says. Turn to John 3:5 and Titus 3:5. This bears out the fact that baptism is necessary for salvation.
Now, what does the Catholic Church believe about the reception of baptism? Does the Church require submersion? The answer to the latter is no. The Catholic Church does not require submersion. When baptizing an infant, one can not submerge the infant. It’s just common sense. For a legitimate baptism the Church only requires a couple of things.
For a legitimate baptism, one may either submerge the individual, pour water on their head, or sprinkle them on the head with water three times. While submerging the candidate, or pouring/sprinkling water on the candidate’s head, one must say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This last part seems particularly important these days. So many people seem to think it’s permissible to baptize a person in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; or other some such nonsense. This is not a legitimate baptism. One must be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These are the names of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. God’s name is not Creator, Redeemer, or Sanctifier. It is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is only in the name of the Trinity that one may be legitimately baptized.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity