The formal Sacrament of Baptism is done, not because of what we can do, or able to do, but because of what this Sacrament does to us, because of its effects on us. It is like a vaccine that cures maladies, baptism takes away the maladies of the spirit which are original sin, personal sin (or actual guilt) with all penalty that is owed for that guilt, and makes us members of the Body of Christ receiving the Holy Spirit. You don’t need to wait until a person is grown up in order to give such person a vaccine or a medicine, that would be negligence by the parents. Similarly, we don’t need to wait until a person is an adult in order to “cure” that person from the spiritual maladies.
Now let’s see what happens at baptism, why baptism is so important. When Jesus went to be baptized by John at the Jordan it was not for His salvation for He is God, but in order to show us a lesson.
The following verses from the Gospel of Mark (1:9-11) explains what baptism does to the person being baptized:
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open…” (NIV).
Let’s pause here, first lesson: Jesus did not need baptism or Heaven to be open for Him, but this event happened in order to teach us what baptism does to the person who is getting baptized. “Heaven is being opened to us”. Yes, we have access to Heaven. Whether we get in is up to us, but “Heaven is Opened”.
“..and the Spirit descending on him like a dove”
Did Jesus need the Holy Spirit to come to Him? Of course not. But this is to teach us that, at baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit.
“.. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus is the Son of God the Father even before His baptism, but this also teach us that when we are baptized we become beloved sons of God the Father by adoption for, as mentioned above, we are incorporated into Christ, His Son. We become members of the Body of Christ.
So, this is why it is paramount for us to be baptized including our little children.
We don’t “earn” or “merit” baptism, we are transformed into the Christian family (members of the mystical Body of Christ). We become children of God and thus heirs of Heaven by acquiring the gift of sanctifying grace received at baptism. This gift was merited by Jesus on the Cross “His death” (Rom 6:3-4), not by us. This is the reason why little children can also receive baptism since we don’t “earn” it.
It is important to baptize children because it does, not because it depends on us:
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph 4:30).
Being members of the Body of Christ applies to all, not only to adults. When Saul (later St. Paul) was persecuting Christians on his way to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him and said: “Why do you persecute ME” (Acts 9:4). Jesus did not say “Why do you persecute “my people”, but “ME”. When Saul persecuted Christians it affected all of them, all members of the families, not only adults. To Jesus, Christians are considered “Himself”. It is because of this revelation on his way to Damascus that St. Paul understood that Jesus’ Church is His Body and started to write about it. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14). Let’s not hinder little children from formally becoming members of the Body of Christ.
Now some object that in order to be baptized, the person needs to repent first (Acts 2:38). An adult person does need to repent before baptism, yes, that is correct; however, babies and little children do not need to repent for they do not carry personal sin, but we all are transmitted original sin at conception:
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5).
“Surely”, there is no option for mistake or another interpretation here. Since death came into the world through one person (Romans 5:12), unless we are born again of water AND the Spirit, we cannot, as Truth says, enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3-5). In order to be “born again” this way, the person only needs to have been born previously, not to be an adult. So, after a person is born in the flesh, that person can be baptized or be born again of water and the Spirit.
Notice also that when St. Peter addressed to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, he did so to all the people of Jerusalem!:
“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams…” (Acts 2:14-17).
And after hearing this proclamation is when some men from the crowd asked “Brothers, what shall we do?”, this question was in the context of receiving such Spirit (Acts 2:37). There is no reference whatsoever that the Spirit is to be poured only to adults. There is no preference for anyone. “All people” means all people. Babies and little children are also people.
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”” (Acts 2:37).
Peter was addressing the crowd right after the Holy Spirit has come them at the place as described earlier in this chapter, and the people who asked Peter and the other Apostles were obviously above the age of reason, more likely adults. These people asked “Brothers, what shall we do?”
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (2:38).
So Peter was replying to the question of those adults (or grown people): “Repent and be baptized…”. Notice also that Peter says “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”. A “gift” is something that you did not earn, it is “free”; otherwise, it would not be a gift at all but a compensation for a meritorious act. This part of Peter’s answer certainly concerns adults or people after the age of reason when a person starts to have personal sins, so they need to repent in order to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. But the following part of the answer, also concerns babies or little children:
“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (2:39).
“For all whom the Lord our God will call” and when does our Lord start calling people?
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Even before we are born! so baptism also apply to babies and little children.
Now, when does a person start to become somebody’s child? All his or her life. A person does not become “a child” at a certain age, but all his or her life!. When somebody asks the biological parent of a baby, “is that your child?”, he is not going to say, “well, not until he gets older”. If that is his or her child, of course the parent is going to say “yes”, “this is my child”!. That baby is that person’s child even at that early age! The same thing with a similar question “are those your children?”, the parent is not going to answer “no, these are my babies but not my children yet”. So we see here that baptism includes everyone. St. Peter, did not say “and your children after the age of reason” or “after a certain age”, but plainly “for you and your children and for all..”. The universality of baptism applies to all, and God calls us even before we are born (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, babies; and the repentant adults who have not been previously baptized and are willing to be born again in Christ, need to be baptized.
Now, notice the following from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark:
Let’s see Matthew first:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
How to become disciples?, by baptism as Jesus taught. Here St. Matthew is teaching us that, in order to be disciples of Christ, the person needs to be baptized. That’s how it was done. So this also applies to babies and little children. It says, “of all nations”. Nations have babies and little children as well. Our Lord is not specifying “adults only” in any case.
Now, in order to be a “disciple”, you don’t need to have learned first and then be baptized. A “disciple” is someone who learns, who is a follower. Like a “student”, you don’t become a “student” after you graduate. You become a student of a particular school once you are registered, then you go to school to learn. Once you register your child to a particular school, that child of yours becomes a student of that particular school. Similarly, for a “disciple” or a “follower”, once you baptize your child, you have “registered” you child to be Jesus’ disciple, then your child learns. Or an “apprentice”, you don’t become an “apprentice” after you have finished learning but since the start. After teaching how to baptize, our Lord continues:
“and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (28:20)
Now let’s see Mark:
“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16).
Wait a minute, is St. Mark is telling us that we need to “believe first and then be baptized”?, isn’t that contrary to what Matthew said?
There is no contradiction, Jesus taught both ways. The reason is the audience to whom the Gospel author wrote to. St. Matthew wrote to the early Christians who were converts from Judaism. So, the early Christians were already baptized or being baptized (otherwise they wouldn’t be called “Christians”) and started to have more children and were also able to teach other people to baptize their children as well. But St. Mark wrote to the pagans or gentiles, he wrote his Gospel in Latin at Rome after, years later, the Gospel of Matthew was in circulation (for more information on Gospel writing read the book: “The Writing of the Gospels and Biblical Inerrancy” by Ron Conte). So, the adults or pagans needed to learn the Christian faith first (to do a process called “catechumenate”), then be baptized.
So what the Catholic Church does is entirely Biblical, persons who were baptized as babies or little children have a post-baptismal catechumenate (CCC 1231) to be disciples (as Matthew teaches); and adults (or persons above the age of reason) who were not previously baptized have a pre-baptismal catechumenate (as Mark teaches) also known as “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)” (CCC 1232, 1233). Baptism is available to all because of its necessity to get rid of Original Sin, personal sin, penalty owed for that personal sin, and be incorporated into the Body of Christ with the Holy Spirit.
What about an adult who is getting prepared for baptism but dies before, does he go to Hell?
The Catechism teaches:
“Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized (cf. LG 16).” (CCC # 1281).
If that person does not have any actual mortal sin, he receives a mystical baptism of desire (non-formal baptism), thus dying in the state of sanctifying grace in order to go to Heaven (perhaps by way of Purgatory). The person can also receive the mystical baptism of blood if the person is martyred for the faith prior to his or her formal Sacrament. For more on this topic, see the following posts:
– But Jesus was baptized as an adult, and in a river, shouln’t we follow His example? –
Like previously stated, Jesus did not need baptism for He is God, but He did so to teach us what baptism does to us. Now, why wasn’t Jesus baptized as a baby? Well because St. John the Baptist was only 6 months older than Jesus (Luke 1:26-27), and when Jesus was a baby St. John wasn’t performing any baptisms. At the time St. John the Baptist began baptizing, Jesus was also an adult. Therefore, Jesus could not had been baptized this way earlier. Also, Jesus Christ did not begin His Ministry as a Child in order to teach adults, but as an adult; that’s why He was not baptized as an Infant, but the first thing He did in His public life was getting baptized – not as something that He needed to do, for He is God, He does not carry original or personal sin – but He did it as an example for all.
– But why not in a river or by immersion as Jesus? – Baptism actually comes from the Greek “βάπτισμα” meaning “washing” or “dipping” –
We need to identify that the baptism that Jesus received was NOT the same formal Sacrament of Baptism, NOT “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” as Jesus later taught. The baptism that St. John performed was only a precursor or forerunner of the Sacrament of Baptism. The baptism that Jesus received from John was not the same type of baptism as the Sacrament of Baptism. John himself said: “I baptize [“washed” “immersed” “dipped”] you with water, but he will baptize [“wash” “immerse” “dip”] you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8), so John himself is saying that a different type of baptism will be given after him. Jesus did not need to be baptized but He sanctified the water by His baptism.
It was later, after His resurrection that Jesus said:
“For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.“ (Acts 1:5).
So we see here two types of baptisms. The previous baptism was with water, but Jesus tells His Apostles that they “will be” – so they did not have received the new type of baptism at that point in time yet. “With the Holy Spirit” is the Sacrament of Baptism that we Christians receive, which is a different type of baptism and was performed since His Church was born at Pentecost. St. John “baptized with water” but we are now baptized “with the Holy Spirit” so the quantity of water does not matter for the new baptism taught by Jesus, what really matters is water and that we are baptized “with the Holy Spirit” as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19), (John 3:3-5). And this is what the early Christians actually did. This new baptism can be by immersion, yes, but also by pouring water upon the person’s head. Let’s see early Christian writings:
“And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.” – (The Didache – also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, [Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism]; 1st Century when some of the Apostles were still alive).
“Pour out water three times upon the head” doesn’t specify “upon the head of the adult (only)”. Now, regarding the fasting, of course, only a grown enough person can fast before baptism, but this later portion of the teaching are disciplinary measures only. Disciplines are changeable, not dogmas, the fasting were obviously for the grown person to be baptized and “whoever can” as it is explicitly mentioned. However, if an adult person was sick, not able to fast, that doesn’t mean that baptism was denied to such person. Similarly, for babies or little children, the fasting was not obviously required for persons who were not able to do it.
“If water is scarce, whether as a constant condition or on occasion, then use whatever water is available” (St. Hippolytus of Rome – The Apostolic Tradition, 21 [A.D. 215]).
“he [as Novatian was about to die] received baptism in the bed where he lay, by pouring“ (Pope Cornelius I Letter to Fabius of Antioch [A.D. 251]; cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6:4311).
“[no one should be] disturbed because the sick are poured upon or sprinkled when they receive the Lord’s grace” (St. Cyprian Letter to a Certain Magnus 69:12 [A.D. 255]).
How can a person who is about to die or an ill person be brought into a river or be immersed in some pool? Baptism is so important because it pertains to our salvation, that’s why our Lord did not mandate river or immersion, but “water and Spirit” as He taught.
Right after Pentecost we read that about 3,000 people were added to their number (becoming Christians through baptism) that very same day! (Acts 2:41), but the thing is that there is no river in old Jerusalem! So this is an indication that rivers were not needed for the formal Sacrament of Baptism.
The following is some of what the early fathers wrote regarding baptism for babies or little children:
“For He came to save all through Himself – all, I say, who through Him are born again to God – infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men” – (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 2:22:4 (180 A.D.)).
“The children shall be baptized first. All the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family” – (St. Hippolytus of Rome; Apostolic Tradition (215 A.D.)).
“Every soul that is born into the 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 was nothing in infants that required remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seen superfluous” – (Origen of Alexandria 249 A.D.).
In Acts we also read that “entire” families began to be baptized (Acts 16:15 . 33), it doesn’t specify to “only the repentant adults” of those families.
There were many adults who were baptized when Christianity began because, obviously, it was just the beginning, Christianity was starting and many adult people have not received baptism previously. At that time, many who started receiving this Sacrament were NOT only Jewish people but also gentiles (non Jews). Many of the first generation of Christians needed to be baptized as adults for they were not baptized previously, but once they started to have more children, they started to baptize their babies or little children from generation to generation as it is documented in the early Christian writings, evidenced by the tile mosaics in ancient churches and paintings in the catacombs which depict baptism by pouring. Baptisteries in early cemeteries are clear witnesses to baptisms by pouring.
The Sacrament of Baptism is available for all. Jesus never taught that baptism is only for adults. On the contrary, He taught that baptism is necessary to be “born again” (John 3:3-5), He said that without any immutable specifics regarding age.
Also, circumcision was a foreshadow of baptism (Col 2:11-12), baby boys were circumcised at only 8 days after birth (Lev 12:3) so that the child was able to enter into the Covenant between him and God and the parents were covenanting with God on behalf of the child. The Holy Family gives us an example of following the precepts of God when they also brought the little Child Jesus to the Temple in order to be presented and circumcised (Luke 2:21 ff). Now, baptism not only replaces circumcision but it is also greater than circumcision. St. Paul teaches:
“In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2:11-12).
Carnal circumcision is no longer needed, it has been now replaced by baptism. “Circumcision” performed by Christ Himself!. If circumcision were permitted for little babies, even more so baptism which is greater and unites us with the Redeemer in the new and everlasting covenant!
We need to understand why baptism is so important, it is because of the effects of what this Sacrament does to the person. Baptism is not “only” for the forgiveness of sin, yes it does forgives sins, but it is also for us to be incorporated into the Church which is the Body of Christ:
“for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27).
Baptism is a condition for us to be “registered” as disciples of Christ.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Cor 12:12-13).
So, in order for us to be incorporated into the Body of Christ, His Church, we need to be baptized and also notice the “ALL” references that St. Paul repeats, that “ALL” need to be baptized, not only adults because we “ALL” need this incorporation. We don’t have to wait until a person is an adult in order to be incorporated in Christ.
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:26-29).
Again, St. Paul makes reference that baptism for “all”. He doesn’t specify that it is only for adults or that it is not for children. Actually, nowhere in the Bible says that baptism is for grown people or adults only. The effect that baptism does it to “clothe ourselves with Christ”. So there is nothing wrong with baptizing babies too. The phrase “neither slave nor free” were for the literal slaves or the free of the time, but in the spiritual level of meaning, it can also refer neither slave or free of personal sins such as adults (who can be slaves) or babies or little children (who are free of personal sins). In baptism we all become one in Christ. The Sacrament of baptism is what makes us Christians for, with it, we are being incorporated formally into His Body and therefore sons and daughters of God and heirs to His promise. Do you want your child to be a member of the Body of Christ? To belong to Christ? Then baptize him or her. The enemy does not want your child to become a member of the Body of Christ.
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Cor 10:1-4).
Notice that it says “They were all baptized”. Here St. Paul makes reference to the foreshadow of our current formal Sacrament of Baptism which was the cloud of God in the sea, and they were “ALL” under that cloud. Do you think that “only adults” were under the cloud and not little children? Of course not. And St. Paul says that they were “all” under the cloud and baptized into Moses in the sea.
“Therefore go 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).
Here our Lord Jesus Christ sends the Apostles to make disciples of “all” nations and to baptize them, but does not make reference whatsoever that baptism is only for adults and not for children also. The nations include little children as well.
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body–whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Cor 12:13).
“having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2: 12).
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4).
Baptism makes us a new person in Christ.
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
There is only one baptism, just as there is only one Lord and one faith. Once a person is validly baptized by water and the Spirit in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the intention as Jesus taught to His Catholic (Universal) Church (whether by pouring or immersion), there is no longer a need to rebaptize the person.