Full question by Pierre:
Why do the catholics baptize the little children by aspersion. If you follow the examples of Jesus, you have to practice baptism by immersion when you are an adult. Jesus was baptized when he was adult.
This is really two questions in one: What are the proper methods to administer baptisms; and at what age can one be validly baptized?
I’ll get to the former question another time, so for now I’ll focus on the question of age.
Pierre makes a pretty good point about Jesus being baptized as an adult, it is an established fact that Jesus was an adult when He was baptized, and we are all called to follow and imitate Christ, so why don’t we follow Him in this instance too?
To answer that, we need to look at the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ baptism and the cultural milieu regarding public ritual bathing. What was happening when John baptized Our Lord, why hadn’t Jesus been baptized at an earlier age, and what was being accomplished by John’s baptismal efforts in the Jordan River?
But before we go any further, it must also be pointed out that infant baptism is not a strictly Catholic Tradition. The Eastern Orthodox also participate in this ancient practice, as do the Oriental Orthodox, the Church of the East, and many Protestant denominations. In fact, I myself was baptized at three weeks old in the Presbyterian Church.
It has only historically been Baptist (ironic right?) and in the last hundred years, non-denominational churches (which are overwhelmingly Baptist in everything but name) that have turned away from infant baptism for it being “too Catholic” and invented new practices like baby dedications to take the place of baptism and Christening (another name for infant baptism).
Because we known in our hearts, and from reading scripture that we should bring our children to the Lord, but if we don’t believe in baptizing a baby, then we must create a new tradition to welcome them into the church.
What was John’s baptism for?
In the Gospel of Luke, we read about John the Baptist going out into the desert and preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3)
John was sent by the Holy Spirit to preach this message of repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. This was foretold by the prophets, especially the prophet Isaiah, and was readily accepted by the people of Judea. They had been awaiting this coming Messiah for generations, and had anticipated His arrival by living out the Covenantal relationship with God that was laid out by the Patriarchs. They hadn’t done a very good job as a whole, but there were righteous individuals that anxiously awaited the Christ.
This is why, although radical in presentation, John’s message wasn’t really radical in content. It was the same as many prophets before him, and the people responded as such.
John would “baptize” the people who came to him, and this too would’ve been received as a somewhat common Jewish practice, just like his preaching about Messiah. The Jews of that time, and even in many circumstances today, would use a ritual public bath called a Mikveh. This ritual immersion would make one ceremonially clean, so they could participate in either temple or synagogue worship.
John’s baptism was basically a public declaration of one’s sinfulness and a willingness, and desire, to change. I declaration that one was going to follow God, and not the world. So they would enter into this Mikveh of sorts, and be symbolically cleanse themselves.
Jesus comes on the scene and is baptized as an adult into this baptism, because as a public declaration He would’ve been ineligible to declare something as a baby.
This is one of the things that those opposed to infant baptism will hang their entire argument on, but it is a very thin proof and argument. Because John’s baptism is analogous to a ritual Mikveh immersion, but Sacramental Baptism is analogous to another Old Testament ritual and sign.
John’s Baptism vs Baptism in Christ
Now it’s important to point out, that according to the New Testament itself, that the Baptism Of John and the Sacramental Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, are two distinct things.
Now a Jew named Apol’los, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aqui’la heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Acha’ia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him.
When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. While Apol’los was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus.
There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 18:24-28 & 19:1-5
The baptism of John was a public declaration, but our Baptism that we receive in the Name Of The Trinity is a Sacrament. That difference makes all the difference.
Circumcision and Baptism
Jesus wasn’t baptized as an infant, but He did receive what was the Old Testament sign that pointed towards baptism. Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day after His birth, in accordance with the Law.
Circumcision was the mark, the sign, the symbol that showed a Jewish boy had entered into a covenantal relationship with God. It was the entrance to the Qahal, the assembly, or later what would be called “the Church” in the New Testament.
That circumcision is the Old Testament sign of baptism in the New Covenant is well attested in the writings of Saint Paul, especially in his letter to the Colossians;
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Eight day old Jewish males weren’t required to make a statement of faith or a public declaration before being received through circumcision, just as our children today are given the Sacrament of Baptism before they’re old enough to do the same.
Salvation Is A Gift
Here’s a reason to baptize babies that should resonate with every single Christian out there; Salvation is a gratuitous gift, what better way to show that than to bestow that gift to a child who has absolutely no way of “earning” his or her salvation?
Much ink has been spilled by Protestants to accuse Catholics of believing we earn our salvation through works, but just through baptizing our infants we show that this is not so. We believe, just as Saint Peter wrote, that “baptisms saves you” (1 Peter 3:21) and that through this Sacramental initiation into the Church, one is not just publicly declared a Christian, one is cleansed of sin (both actual and original sin) and placed into a Filial relationship with God.
Saint Peter laid out the importance of baptism in the plan of salvation during his sermon on Pentecost that is recorded in Acts;
And 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 shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
He specifically mentions this gift as being for children, and this partially explains why the early church baptized full households (see Acts 16:15 and 1 Corinthians 1:16).
Some in the first centuries of Christianity insisted that a child not be baptized until the 8th day, to keep in line with the old law of circumcision. This opinion was disputed by Saint Cyprian of Carthage, his argument being that such a gift not be withheld from anyone, and considering the rates of infant mortality, it would be irresponsible to wait for 8 days.
As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born” (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).
Yes, Jesus was not baptized as a child, but He was circumcised as an infant, and our baptisms are the new covenant equivalent of circumcision, so why would we withhold such a beautiful gift and grace from the children that God has entrusted to our care?
This is why Catholics baptize infants, and why all other Christians should too.
(If you have a question about Catholicism in particular, or even about Christianity in general, please go to this link and submit it https://nowthatimcatholic.com/2016/05/18/questions-about-catholicism/ )