Through Satan’s work over the centuries to divide the people of God, we find that there are billions of Christians living on earth today who would have been considered to be heretics by the early Church of the Apostles. If these same Christians were to enter a time machine and go back to the first and second centuries they would find that many their beliefs about Christian doctrine are not in union with the only community of Churches that Jesus established through His Apostles. That is very problematic! Why wouldn’t a Christian desire for their theology to be in union with the early Church?
This brief article is going to look at what the Catholic Church teaches about the Sacrament of Baptism and compare it to what the Fathers of the Church taught and wrote on this subject, to demonstrate the consistency of our doctrine.
What the Catholic Church teaches about the Sacrament of Baptism today is what it has always believed about it. Baptism is more than just a sign. Baptism is Holy, and is the basis and the gateway to life in the Spirit. Through Baptism the grace of God works a permanent miracle – the cleansing of all of our sins prior to it. Baptism makes all other Sacraments of the Church accessible. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons and daughters of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission. “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” The proper formula of Baptism the same that Christ Jesus gave in His commission 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 . . .” (Mt. 28:19-20). More from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
What is this Sacrament Called?
1214 This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to “Plunge” or “immerse”; the “plunge” into the water symbolizes the catechumen’s burial into Christ’s death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as “a new creature.”
1215 This sacrament is also called “the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one “can enter the kingdom of God.”
1216 “This bath is called enlightenment, because those who receive this [catechetical] instruction are enlightened in their understanding . . . .” Having received in Baptism the Word, “The true light that enlightens every man,” the person baptized has been “enlightened,” he becomes a “son of light,” indeed, he becomes “light” himself . . .
SOME OF WHAT THE FATHER’S OF THE CHURCH TAUGHT AND WROTE:
* year A.D. no later than 140 – ‘The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’:
- “In regard to Baptism – baptize thus: After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water; and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before the Baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days.”
* year A.D. 244 – Origen – (180-253-254, lay theologian, preacher, Martyr), ‘Commentaries on the Romans’:
- “Perhaps you may inquire even into this: why, when the Lord Himself told His disciples that they should baptize all peoples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit , does this Apostle employ the name of Christ alone in Baptism, saying, “We who have been baptized in Christ;” for indeed, legitimate Baptism is had only in the name of the Trinity.”
* year A.D. 251/252 – St. Cyprian of Carthage (200?-258, Bishop, Martyr), ‘Letter of Cyprian and of his Colleagues in Council to the Number of Sixty-Six: to Fidus’
- “If, in the case of the worst sinners and of those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from Baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another.”
* year A.D. 375 – St. Basil the Great (300?-381, Bishop of Caesarea), ‘The Holy Spirit’:
- Let no one be misled by the fact that the Apostle frequently omits the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit when mentioning baptism; nor let anyone suppose that the invocation of the Names is a matter of indifference. “Those of you,” he says, “Who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ” ; and again, “Those of you who have been baptized in Christ have been baptized in His death.” The naming of Christ you see, is the confession of the whole: it bespeaks the God who anoints, the Son who is anointed, and the Spirit who is the anointing. . . If, then, in baptism the separation of the Spirit from the Father and the Son is perilous to the one baptizing and useless to the one receiving, how can it be safe for us to separate the Spirit from the Father and the Son? . . . We believe in a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit; so too, then, are we baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
* year A.D. 426/427 – St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430, Bishop), ‘Corrections’
- “Likewise, because I said: “Sin, of course, can never exist except in the will,” the Pelagians can suppose that it was said to their advantage, because infants, whom they deny have the original sin which is remitted them in baptism, have not yet the use of free choice. Indeed, as if sin, which we say they derive originally from Adam, that is, by being implicated in his guilt and for this reason held liable to punishment could ever exist except from the will, by which will it was committed when transgression was made of the divine command! . . . The guilt of concupiscence is remitted in Baptism, but a weakness remains: and against this weakness, until it is healed, every faithful person who makes good progress struggles most assiduously. But sin, which never exist except in the will, is to be understood especially as that which is followed by a just condemnation: for this is what “through one man entered into the world.”
Recommending Reading On What the Fathers of the Church Taught and Wrote:
- – - Jurgens, William A., Faith of the Fathers (Vols. 1, 2 and 3), The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota (1970).