Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why Baptise Infants?



There are some who say Baptism should only be given to adults because we must first have repentance and faith. Earlier I was asked to comment on this subject and recently found the teaching of Elder Cleopa on this topic.


The Elder begins his explanation by pointing out the precursors to Baptism found in the Old Testament. He writes,
There in [the Old Testament] we read how God appeared to Abraham when he was ninety-nine years of age and, among things, told him to circumcise all the men and to circumcise all the male children who would be born from that time on on the eighth day after their birth. As for him who would not be circumcised , he would perish (Gen 17: 10-14). We see, then, that God did not say to Abraham that children and youth should be circumscribed when they became adults... Some say the Baptism of babies is meaningless since they don't understand anything when they are Baptized. But what did Issac, Abraham's child, understand on the eighth day? Undoubtedly he understood nothing. His parents, however, understood. This is how it is with Baptism as well, as it is practiced in the Orthodox Church, since it is well-known that circumcision symbolizes Baptism in the Old Testament.

He gives another example of the Exodus from Egypt and the passage through the Red Sea which is also seen by Church Fathers as prefiguring Baptism. This is affirmed by Paul who says, "Moreover brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor 10:1-2). Moses had told the pharaoh , "We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go." (Ex 10:9).
He then points out that on the day of Pentecost the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and preached to the people what the Spirit had tight them, telling them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for "the promise is unto you, and to your children" (Acts 2:39)
Elder Cleopa says, 
"For what promise? The promise of Baptism. Thus, the promise was for the children as well. When it is said that they were baptized, it does not say three thousand men and women were Baptized, but three sous and fouls, which means that among those baptized were children."
He next presents examples of families who were baptized as recorded in the New Testament. Lydia with her whole family (Acts 16:14). The prisons guard who took Paul and Silias to his house who was Baptised with his whole family ( Acts 16:33). Then there was Crispus and his family (Acts 18:8), and Stephanos and his household (1 Cor 1:16).


He writes, 
Jesus Christ likewise, made it clear that little children ought to be Baptized, for when they brought Him some children to be blessed by Him, and His disciples obstructed them, the Lord scolded them, saying: "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven; And He laid His hands on them, and departed hence" (Matt 19: 13-15). Hence , if the Lord calls children unto salvation from a young age, why would we obstruct them from receiving Holy Baptism?
But how about the question of faith. Is it possible for children to be saved without faith?
The Elder responds,
"It is true that children are not capable of believing at the young age of their Baptism, but neither are they able to doubt or deny Christ. He is not saved who only believes, but he who first of all is baptized... While children do not have faith, they have godparents. These sponsors are adults who accompany the infants to Baptism and make the required confession of faith in their stead. Godparents are the spiritual parents of the children whom they baptize and undertake to guide them into a new life in the Holy Spirit... The priest conducts the Baptism based on the faith of the parents, the sponsors, and the other witnesses present.
It is written in Scripture that the faith of a few can save others. 
Here are examples given by Elder Cleopa,
"By faith the Roman centurion healed his servant (Matt 8:13). The servant did not believe, but on account of the faith of his master, Christ returned him to full health. Four people brought a paralytic tot he Savior: When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the also, Son, thy sons be forgiven thee (Mark 2:3-5)... On the basis of the faith of Jarius the Lord raised his twelve-year-old daughter (Matt 9:18). On account of faith of others, the Lord healed a dumb, demon-possessed man (Matt 9:32). On account of the faith of the woman of Canaan, the Savior healed her daughter, casting out the demon that possessed her (Matt 15:21). Likewise on the account of faith of a father, the Lord healed his epileptic son (Matt 17:14). These and many other testimonies from Holy Scripture make clear to us that on account of the faith of parents, and others who stand as witnesses at Holy Baptism, the Lord grants sanctification and salvation to the baptized children."
We also see this practice from the early days of the Church, The earliest explicit reference to child or infant baptism is in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, about 215 A.D.: "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." (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 21:15, c. 215 A.D.)


We must also keep in mind that baptism marks the beginning of our Christian life, each of us who are baptized must continue daily to persevere in our faith until the end of our earthly life. As St. Paul says: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect... I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do... I press on toward the goal to win the prize..." (Philippians 3:12-14)


Reference: The Truth of our Faith, Vol. II, 17-34

2 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father. I continue to enjoy your writing. Thanks for the post on infant baptism. It saddens me that this sacrament has been denied to so many infants on account of perverted theology found in many mainline Protestant denominations in the USA.

    Jesus Christ, have mercy. Blessings

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  2. As a Catholic I would agree with you as an Orthodox Christian that baptism of children is something that has pretty much always been the norm in both East and West. In traditional Catholic teaching water baptism cleanses the soul of a child from original sin and fills the soul with the supernatural life that otherwise would be not accessible to him. In effect he would still be a "child of wrath" although as of late the Catholic Church has downplayed this aspect and seemed to move closer to the Orthodox understanding--or so it seems to me.

    I know you have different views on grace/nature etc. but in traditional Catholic teaching unless we are raised up beyond mere nature by being filled with sanctifying grace (which baptism confers for the first time) we are not on a path to Heaven since in our fallen state without grace we cannot move one millimeter towards the direction of eternal life although grace can act on the outside inspiring us and moving us towards repentance and eventual conversion/baptism.

    I suppose in Orthodoxy there might be a similar teaching (although I could be dead wrong), as I read in Christ The Eternal Tao that some Eastern Father or Elder said in effect that before baptism grace acts on the outside of a person but after baptism it acts on the inside. Even though us Catholics would speak in terms like "sanctifying grace" which works on the inside and "actual graces" which are sort of like exterior helps it sounds similiar since an unbaptized person (at least in traditional Catholicism) is not filled with sanctifying grace at all but can be moved towards seeking God and seeking baptism by "actual grace" working on the outside.

    As for me, I'm still a Catholic and might never get to Orthodoxy but in many ways I'm close in spirit and certainly enjoy your blog and much of the prayer advice of you Orthodox folks. It's so straight and to the point.

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