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Infant Baptism in Christian history

-historical evidence supporting infant baptism

 

Early Church witnesses:

 

St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 130- c. 200)

"He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age" (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).

"‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]" (Fragment 34 [A.D. 190]).

 

St. Hippolytus, presbyter (c. 170-236)

"Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them" (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]).

 

Origen, presbyter (c. 185-254)

"Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous" (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]).

"The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).

"[T]herefore children are also baptized." (Homily on Luke, XIV (A.D. 233), in JER, 65) http://www.cin.org/users/jgallegos/infant.htm

 

St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (died c. 258)

"But in respect of the case of the infants, which you [Fidus] say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man." Epistle LVIII:2 [A.D. 253]). (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-05/anf05-83.htm)

" For which reason we think that no one is to be hindered from obtaining grace by that law which was already ordained, and that spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision, but that absolutely every man is to be admitted to the grace of Christ, since Peter also in the Acts of the Apostles speaks, and says, "The Lord hath said to me that I should call no man common or unclean."
8 But if anything could hinder men from obtaining grace, their more heinous sins might rather hinder those who are mature and grown up and older. But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted-and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace-how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam,9 he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins-that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another." (ibid.,LVIII:5).

"And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to he hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to he observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, on the very beginning of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat." (ibid.,LVIII:6).

 

St. Gregory of Nazianz, Bishop of Sasima Cappadocia, Doctor of the Church (c. 330-390)

"Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal [of baptism] because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!" (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388]).

"‘Well enough,’ some will say, ‘for those who ask for baptism, but what do you have to say about those who are still children, and aware neither of loss nor of grace? Shall we baptize them too?’ Certainly [I respond], if there is any pressing danger. Better that they be sanctified unaware, than that they depart unsealed and uninitiated" (ibid., 40:28).

 

St. Optatus, Bishop of Mikvis and Numidia (c. 365)

"It shows no crease when infants put it on [ie the baptismal garment], it is not too scanty for young men, it fits women without alteration." (Against Parmenium, 5:10 (A.D. 365) ,in JER, 94)

 

St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church (c. 347-407)

"You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]! For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members" (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]).

 

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church (354-430)

"And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by apostolical authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the sacrament of baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision, which was received by God's earlier people, and before receiving which Abraham was justified, as Cornelius also was enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized." (On Baptism against the Donatist, 4:24:31 (A.D. 400), in NPNF1,IV:461)

"Now, seeing that they [Pelagians] admit the necessity of baptizing infants,--finding themselves unable to contravene that authority of the universal Church, which has been unquestionably handed down by the Lord and His apostles,--they cannot avoid the further concession, that infants require the same benefits of the Mediator, in order that, being washed by the sacrament and charity of the faithful, and thereby incorporated into the body of Christ, which is the Church, they may be reconciled to God, and so live in Him, and be saved, and delivered, and redeemed, and enlightened. But from what, if not from death, and the vices, and guilt, and thraldom, and darkness of sin? And, inasmuch as they do not commit any sin in the tender age of infancy by their actual transgression, original sin only is left." (On forgiveness of sin, and baptism, 39 [26] (A.D. 412), in NPNF1,V:30)

"The blessed Cyprian, indeed, said, in order to correct those who thought that an infant should not be baptized before the eighth day, that it was not the body but the soul which behoved to be saved from perdition -- in which statement he was not inventing any new doctrine, but preserving the firmly established faith of the Church; and he, along with some of his colleagues in the episcopal office, held that a child may be properly baptized immediately after its birth" (Epistle 166:8:23 (A.D. 412), in NPNF1,I:531)

"...the universal Church, in which it is the practice to lose no time and run in haste to administer baptism to infant children..." (Epistle 167,7,21 (A.D. 415), in NPNF1,I:530)

 

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church (c. 342-420)

"The truth is that, as baptism ensures the salvation of the child, this in turn brings advantage to the parents. Whether you would offer your child or not lay within your choice, but now that you have offered her, you neglect her at your peril." (To Laeta, Epistle 107:6(A.D. 403), in NPNF2,VI:191)

"Q. Tell me, pray, and rid me of all doubts, why little children are baptized.?
A. That their sins may be forgiven them in baptism." (Against the Pelagians, 3:18 (A.D. 415), in NPNF2,VI:482)

 

St. Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church (d. 444)

"What the universal Church holds, not as instituted [invented] by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:24:31 [A.D. 400]).

"The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic" (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).

"Cyprian was not issuing a new decree but was keeping to the most solid belief of the Church in order to correct some who thought that infants ought not be baptized before the eighth day after their birth. . . . He agreed with certain of his fellow bishops that a child is able to be duly baptized as soon as he is born" (Letters 166:8:23 [A.D. 412]).

"By this grace baptized infants too are ingrafted into his [Christ’s] body, infants who certainly are not yet able to imitate anyone. Christ, in whom all are made alive . . . gives also the most hidden grace of his Spirit to believers, grace which he secretly infuses even into infants. . . . It is an excellent thing that the Punic [North African] Christians call baptism salvation and the sacrament of Christ’s Body nothing else than life. Whence does this derive, except from an ancient and, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture, too. . . . If anyone wonders why children born of the baptized should themselves be baptized, let him attend briefly to this. . . . The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration" (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:9:10; 1:24:34; 2:27:43 [A.D. 412]).

 

Council of Carthage V (A.D. 401)

"Item: It seemed good that whenever there were not found reliable witnesses who could testify that without any doubt they [abandoned children] were baptized and when the children themselves were not, on account of their tender age, able to answer concerning the giving of the sacraments to them, all such children should be baptized without scruple, lest a hesitation should deprive them of the cleansing of the sacraments. This was urged by the [North African] legates, our brethren, since they redeem many such [abandoned children] from the barbarians" (Canon 7).

"Likewise it has been decided that whoever says that infants fresh from their mothers' wombs ought not to be baptized....let him be anathema." (Canon 2, (A.D. 418), in Denzinger 101)

 

Council of Mileum II (A.D. 416)

"[W]hoever says that infants fresh from their mothers’ wombs ought not to be baptized, or say that they are indeed baptized unto the remission of sins, but that they draw nothing of the original sin of Adam, which is expiated in the bath of regeneration . . . let him be anathema [excommunicated]. Since what the apostle [Paul] says, ‘Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so passed to all men, in whom all have sinned’ [Rom. 5:12], must not be understood otherwise than the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who in themselves thus far have not been able to commit any sin, are therefore truly baptized unto the remission of sins, so that that which they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration" (Canon 3).

 


Protestant witnesses:

 

Martin Luther, founder of Lutheranism

"Little children . . . are free in every way, secure and saved solely through the glory of their baptism . . . Through the prayer of the believing church which presents it, . . . the infant is changed, cleansed, and renewed by inpoured faith. Nor should I doubt that even a godless adult could be changed, in any of the sacraments, if the same church prayed for and presented him, as we read of the paralytic in the Gospel, who was healed through the faith of others (Mark 2:3-12). I should be ready to admit that in this sense the sacraments of the New Law are efficacious in conferring grace, not only to those who do not, but even to those who do most obstinately present an obstacle." (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520, from the translation of A.T.W. Steinhauser, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, rev. ed., 1970, 197)

 

John Calvin, founder of Calvinism

"The argument by which paedobaptism is assailed is, no doubt, specious... Wherefore, if we would not maliciously obscure the kindness of God, let us present to him our infants, to whom he has assigned a place among his friends and family that is, the members of the Church." (Argument for Infant Baptism)

 

John Wesley, founder of Methodism

"'It is certain, by God's word, that children who are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin are saved.' And this is agreeable to the unanimous judgment of all the ancient Fathers. (Treatise on Baptism)

"If infants ought to come to Christ, if they are capable of admission into the Church of God, and consequently of solemn sacramental dedication to him, then they are proper subjects of baptism. But infants are capable of coming to Christ, of admission into the Church, and solemn dedication to God." (Treatise on Baptism)

 

Samuel Miller, Presbyterian

"Such is an epitome of the direct evidence in favour of infant baptism. To me, I acknowledge, it appears nothing short of demonstration. The invariable character of all Jehovah's dealings and covenants with the children of men; his express appointment, acted upon for two thousand years by the ancient church; the total silence of the New Testament as to any retraction or repeal of this privilege; the evident and repeated examples of family baptism in the apostolic age; the indubitable testimony of the practice of the whole church on the pædobaptist plan, from the time of the apostles to the sixteenth century, including the most respectable witnesses for the truth in the dark ages; all conspire to establish on the firmest foundation, the membership, and the consequent right to baptism of the infant seed of believers. If here be no divine warrant, we may despair of finding it for any institution in the church of God." (Infant Baptism Scriptural and Reasonable, Discourse 1)

 

Book of Common Prayer -Anglican

"The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ." The Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

 

J. D. Douglas

"Doctrinally, baptism very early came to be understood as a means of grace or a sacrament, in the sense of an instrumental means of regeneration... Infant baptism was practiced in the second century, but only with the aid of an adult sponsor." (The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, rev. ed., 1978, 100)

 

 

Bibliography

Armstrong, Dave. Apostolic and Early Church Teaching on Baptism, and its Doctrinal Development. http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ191.HTM

Armstrong, Dave. Baptismal Regeneration: Luther, Wesley, and Anglicanism. http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ215.HTM

Calvin, John. Argument for Infant Baptism. http://www.geocities.com/the_theologian/content/doctrine/calvinbaptism.html

Catholic Answers, http://www.catholic.com/

Cor Unum. http://www.cin.org/users/jgallegos/infant.htm

Miller, Samuel. Infant Baptism Scriptural and Reasonable, Discourse 1. http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualnls/baptism3.htm

The Book of Common Prayer, NY: The Seabury Press, 1979, 873

The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. (ed. J.D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, rev. ed., 1978

Wesley, John. Treatise on Baptism. http://www.ccs-hk.org/DM/wesley.html