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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… Frequent Questions About Baptism

December 24, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 8

Often, in the course of my talks on Catholic apologetics, the Catechism, and general Q & A on various aspects of Catholic doctrine, people ask me about the controversy regarding the question of what happens to babies who die, either by disease, serious birth defects, or abortion, without Baptism.
The common teaching of theologians is that infants who die without Baptism are not admitted to the beatific vision of Heaven, since they have not been cleansed of original sin; by the same token, they cannot suffer the pains of Hell, since they are free of personal sin.
After death, they must, therefore, enter a state of natural, but not supernatural, happiness, known as Limbo.
Pope Pius XII insisted that the supernatural order of things is entirely gratuitous on the part of God; that is, God was under no compulsion to create rational beings destined to Heaven. He can have created rational beings without necessarily ordaining them to the beatific vision, and rewarding them with a natural perfect happiness.
The same Pope said, “Under the present economy there is no other way of giving this [supernatural] life to the child who is still without the use of reason.…In the case of a grown-up person, an act of love may suffice for obtaining sanctifying grace and making up for the lack of Baptism. To the child still unborn or the child just born this path is not open.”
The Instruction on Infant Baptism says, “The Church has thus shown by her teaching and practice that she knows no other way apart from Baptism for ensuring children’s entry into eternal happiness.”
You may ask: What, then, is the happiness of Limbo? It is a state in which the souls are as fully happy on the natural level as human nature can be, a state similar to the happiness of Adam and Eve in Paradise. They enjoy a perfect, natural happiness.
Are the souls of the babies in Limbo in an infantile state? No, they are not. They are fully mature, and immortal, as their bodies will be at the General Resurrection.
Could God grant those souls the Beatific Vision? Of course, He could. It would be a gratuitous act of love on God’s part to grant the eternal happiness of Heaven to those souls, but we have no precise information in this regard.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1261, says: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.”
Now we move to answer some objections against the Church teaching on Baptism.
1) “The Catholic method of Baptism by pouring water is un-biblical, since in the New Testament and in the early Church, Baptism was performed by total immersion in water.” (This is a common objection by fundamentalist Protestants and the Evangelicals.)
Reply:
a) It is not true that Baptism by full immersion into the water was the only method originally used. In Acts 16:33 we read that St. Paul, at very short notice, baptized a jailer and his family after midnight. It is not reasonable to suppose that there was always a man-size tub and loads of water in the jail, or a deep river nearby, with a secret door to lead the folks to the water in which to be baptized.
b) The Didache of the second century (chapter 7) mentions use of running water, but if not, “then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
c) St. Cyprian (d. 258) recognizes Baptism by infusion for the sick: of the dozen or more third and fourth-century baptisteries excavated in Greece, only two have fonts a meter or so deep, and most are under 50 cm, that is, knee-deep if full.
d) The same pattern is true of baptisteries found in Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. A fresco from the first half of the third century in the Catacombs of St. Callistus, Rome, shows a Baptism being performed in water a few inches deep. From all these it is clear that an adult candidate stood in a shallow pool, and some water was gathered from it and poured over his head. Therefore, to allege that Baptism in the early Church was done by total immersion into water is simply not true. It is a historical lie, to put it bluntly.
2) “At our Baptism, our godparents promise that we would lead Christian lives. How can we be bound by a promise given by them without our knowledge and consent?”
Reply:
You miss the point. The obligation to lead a Christian life is not imposed on us by our godparents’ promises, but by the sacrament itself: Are we not, by our physical birth and without our consent, made members of a family and a nation? So, by our spiritual birth and without our consent, we are made members of the household of God.
3) “It is an injustice and a violation of personal freedom to be baptized unawares. Baptism should be proposed when a child is old enough to choose for himself.”
Reply:
By the same argument, no child should be made to rise, eat, or sleep, take medicine, bathe, learn how to speak, or go to school — until he freely desires to do any of these things. The truth is that parents must necessarily make choices for their children. Good parents want to pass on to their children the best that they can offer. And supernatural life has an immensely higher value than a good school, club membership, or diet.
4) “Does it not seem reasonable that children who receive Protestant Baptism are bound to practice the Protestant religion?”
Reply:
a) There is no such thing as Protestant Baptism. Baptism is a sacrament instituted by Christ and entrusted to His Church, the Catholic Church. Some Protestant communities have valid Baptism (because they have retained the true way of conferring it) and their children who validly receive the sacrament are made members of the Catholic Church.
5) “Since the Catholic Church has so many rules about Baptism, isn’t it just a sacramental invented by the Catholic Church?”
Reply:
No, it is not. The Church, in the exercise of her infallible authority, declares the institution of the Sacrament of Baptism by Christ to be a doctrine given to her by God Himself. This proof alone suffices for Catholics, but the proof from Sacred Scripture is added to give fuller instruction.
We read in the Bible that Christ said to Nicodemus, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5); and later to the apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
These texts show above any doubt that Christ definitely proclaimed the necessity of Baptism, and showed precisely how the rite was to be administered: Christ, therefore, is the institutor of this sacrament in all its essential details.

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. He is a militant pro-life writer and apologist, addressing live audiences and delivering talks on television, radio, and online. To date he has given over 2,500 presentations in 38 countries of the six continents. He is available to speak at Catholic events, both large and small, anywhere in the Free World, in four languages — English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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