Catholic Apologetics 1: Why Do We Baptize Infants?
By Melayna Alicea
As someone who has grown up in the Bible Belt, I have been confronted with questions and accusations about my faith my entire life. Some of my favorites are: You worship Mary! Why do you pray to saints? The Eucharist is a symbol. And why do you Baptize infants? I hope that through these monthly articles, you will be able to better answer these questions and accusations to bring awareness to the truths about our faith rather than perpetuate or ignore the rumors.
I recently Baptized my second son. Because I am married to a convert who was raised Southern Baptist, and we still live in the Bible Belt, we did not have the large family and friend gathering that is so common amongst Roman Catholic families. I attribute this to a lack of understanding and respect for Catholic Baptism among my inner circle. I know that many of my loved ones wonder why we choose to Baptize our children as infants.
Through this article, I hope to answer this question and also point to the Biblical Roots of infant Baptism.
To properly approach this topic, we need to acknowledge that the way Catholics and many Protestants view Baptism is different. In reality, despite the common term, Baptism in a Catholic church and Baptism in a Protestant church are two different events with each being important in its own right.
One way I have briefly explained the difference is by saying that a Protestant Baptism is more like the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church.
Even though this explanation is technically not correct, it accurately answers the concerns of my Protestant brothers and sisters.
Baptism in many Protestant denominations involves a public declaration of faith at or after the age of reason. This individual is choosing for themselves to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, is washed by the waters of Baptism, and thereby becomes a son or daughter of God. This act allows them to be saved. (I want to note here that it is in this action where we see the “salvation comes from faith alone” belief, but I digress. We will touch on this topic in another article).
Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Faith is the final Sacrament of Initiation where the individual chooses to take on the faith as their own, becomes a full, adult member of the church, and receives the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. This act is a completion of the Sacrament of Baptism that they received as infants and a call to discipleship like the apostles received during Pentecost.
As you can see, these two things: Protestant Baptism and Catholic Confirmation are not the same, but they are more alike than the two Baptisms, and ultimately, they complete the same action of claiming the Christian faith as one’s own.
I have found that this explanation is a great basic answer as it levels the conversation in stating that we agree with the decision to personally claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior. We just do it a little differently.
If the conversation continues, you will likely have to explain the Biblical Roots of infant Baptism. Thankfully, there are many, and they are all included in the books that Protestants and Catholics have in common. (Unlike the Purgatory argument which is entirely Biblical, but all of the roots are within the seven books that Martin Luther removed from the Protestant Bible. But I digress again).
Ever since the beginning of the Church in the New Testament, the Church has baptized infants. Luke 18:15 tells us that people were even bringing their infants to Jesus. “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). Many people forget that in this context Jesus was including infants not just children of the age of reason.
Baptism is also seen as the new circumcision. “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'' (Col 2:11-12). In the Old Testament covenant, circumcision was the ritual leading to salvation, and it was performed for infants. The only time this occurred for people of the age of reason was when they were not born into the faith. It only makes sense then that as the New Testament covenant is a fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant, the new circumcision, Baptism, would also occur in infancy for those born into the faith.
It was not until the Protestant Reformation, approximately 500 years ago, that this understanding of Baptism as a Sacrament, and thus the recognition that it should occur at infancy, changed. Up until that point, for 1500 years, all Christians agreed on the belief of sacramental infant Baptism. When the recognition of sacramental marriage and Holy Orders went out the door as well as the understanding of the Eucharist, the other Sacraments followed suit.
Baptism is not a Sacrament in the Protestant church. It is more a rite of passage. Despite the lack of sacramental emphasis in the Protestant churches other Christian denominations often view Catholic Baptism as “lesser than” because it occurs so early in life.
The sacramental Baptism in the Catholic Church includes many components that are often overlooked, misunderstood, or unknown to the outside world. I want to briefly highlight each step to better explain the significance and strength of infant Baptism.
The Baptism begins with a welcoming of the child as a new member of the church. This is because ultimately, Baptism is the act of bringing a child into the family of God’s children no longer just his creation. “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). The parents and Godparents trace a cross on the child’s forehead to symbolize the focus of the faith. Sacraments themselves and all of the traditional symbols are an external reflection of the internal spiritual experiences.
The Rite of Exorcism is practiced at every Baptism. This might seem strange, but the reasoning behind this practice has to do with the rebirth into God’s realm, not a fear of possessed babies. When we are born into the world, we are born into the realm of Satan. Ever since Adam and Eve, Satan has had dominion over the world. Through this Rite of Exorcism, we as parents, Godparents, the congregation, and the priest or deacon are protecting our child from Satan and his dominions by reclaiming him as a child of God and a member of His kingdom, no longer a part of this world. In the world but not of it.
“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” (Acts 2:38). It is worth noting that Peter said "everyone," not just those above the age of reason.
We are also born with concupiscence (the tendency to sin) and the stain of Original Sin. Through the waters of Baptism, the child is washed and cleansed of the stain of Original Sin. Even though concupiscence is not washed away, the grace to fight this tendency to sin is bestowed through the Sacrament of Baptism. The Holy Spirit comes down upon the child, and he/she is blessed with graces that though unseen are very present within their soul. That child has the free will to use these graces of course, but He is blessed to start his life with this protection, spiritual family, and extra graces.
The ceremony often ends with a blessing over the parents, a prayer for them to be good stewards of the faith and bring their child up as a disciple of God.
As you can see, Protestant and Catholic Baptisms are only alike in the use of water and understanding of Baptism as a welcoming of a new member. When you consider the other components of a Catholic Baptism, it makes sense why it would occur so early in life.
As parents, it is our duty to protect and care for our children. We feed, clothe, and nurture them physically, but as Christians, it is even more important that we do the same for them spiritually. “Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon His name” (Acts 22:16).
Every person will die. Children do not always know what they need. As parents, it is our job to provide for their needs both physically and spiritually. Baptism is the first step in providing that spiritual food, protection, and nurture.
This is in no way to condone Protestant Baptism. After all, an adult coming into the Catholic Church who has previously been Baptized in the Protestant faith does not need to be rebaptized. However, this baptism is not fulfilling on its own. Just like a Catholic Baptism is not the only Sacrament of Initiation. It takes two more Sacraments for an individual to become a full member of the church. Both of these Sacraments of Initiation occur after the age of reason, allowing them to fully accept their faith as their own and thus, like in Protestant churches, accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Next Month’s Apologetics Article…
Next month we will expand on the topic of Baptism. We will talk about Baptism of Intent and why Catholics don’t practice rebaptism.