The Continuity of the Catholic Church
For further illustrations I chose a few subjects which I anticipate, will be of special interest to Mormon and readers who are of a Baptist persuasion. Consider, first, the subject of infant baptism.
The Catholic Church declares, as a matter of history, that she baptized infants in the earliest days of the Christian era. Against her there have arisen in recent centuries a few groups of Christians who denounce infant baptism as unchristian. By way of argument they call attention to two texts from the New Testament. One is from the Acts of the Apostles in which it is stated that St. Peter exhorted his hearers to "repent and be baptized." Inasmuch as infants are incapable of repenting, the conclusion is drawn that baptism was not for them. The correct explanation, of course, is that St. Peter was addressing adults only and these, as he pointed out, were required to repent of their sins. There is no reference to infants.
A second text is that which describes our Lord's meeting with children. He urged that they be permitted to come to Him and declared that of such was the kingdom of heaven. There being no mention of the baptism of these children, the conclusion is drawn that they were not baptized. Certainly there is no mention in the written text; but neither is there a written record about the baptism of the Apostles. Would the critics declare that they were not baptized? The explanation is that our Lord was praising the children for their innocence and humility. He was not discoursing about how to preach the Gospel and evangelise the world.
Here let me raise the same question that I proposed for similar subjects. Who is better qualified to understand what the Catholic Church did in the first century, the Church herself whose history includes the first century, or some group which has had only a brief modern history?
Let it be noted that the history of Christianity during Apostolic times is the Church's history; she made it. She is not reduced to looking in on the scene from the outside. Is not her testimony about her own doings, therefore, of far greater value than that of some group which has no memory of first-century Christianity?
Conclusive though this reason is, it need not stand alone. Our Lord Himself said: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). That these words refer to baptism and that they impose an obligation will not be doubted. Leaving aside the subject of baptism of desire, which would involve a theological discussion of little interest to most readers, I point out that our Lord's statement is universal. In the English translation the word man is used. But in the original Greek the word which is translated man is the universal term one or anyone. The Greek text reads: "Except anyone is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Our Lord did not say that adults only should be baptized; He included everyone.
It is pertinent to inquire how His instructions were understood by the Apostles. In other words, did they baptize infants? The answer is that one three occasions, as recorded in the New Testament, the members of a household or a family were baptized.
First, there was the woman named Lydia..."whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household..." (Acts 16:14-15).
Second, there was the jailer who was converted in prison in the night. "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway" (Acts 16:33).
Third, in the words of St. Paul: "I baptized also the household of Stephanas...." (I Cor. 1:16). Does it seem reasonable, I ask, that there were no infants or young children in any of these three families?
Of equal significance is the testimony of Tradition. In the second century St. Irenaeus wrote: "He came to save all who through Him are born again unto God: infants and children, boys and youth, and elders." Such a statement from St. Irenaeus is of unusual value because he was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of St. John, the Apostle.
In the third century, Origen wrote: "The Church received from the Apostles the tradition of giving baptism also to infants...necessary to cleanse infants from original sin."
A century later, St. Augustine was called upon to defend infant baptism against the Pelagians, who denied the reality of original sin. He wrote: "Infants are brought to church, and if they cannot go there on their own feet, they run with the feet of others...let no one among you therefore, murmur strange doctrines. This the Church always has held; this she received from the faith of our ancestors; this she feverishly guards even to the end."
Much is said by certain opponents of the Church about the innocence of infants and their freedom from sin, the inference being that they are in no need of baptism. Of actual sin, they are innocent, without doubt, but not of original sin. This is the unfortunate inheritance from the first parents shared by all members of the human family, except Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary was saved and preserved free from original sin, because of the foreseen merits of Christ, whom she was to bear as her son. The normal means designated by our Lord to give sanctifying grace and thus to remove original sin is baptism. But it may be asked, does not God in His mercy give grace to the infant, regardless of baptism? He could do so, of course, but there is no choice. In obedience to the divine command the Catholic Church baptizes infants; and she has always done so.
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