Thursday, August 22, 2013

Theology Thursday: On the Purpose and Necessity of Baptism

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),4 and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons 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." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part II. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Chapter One: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Article I: The Sacrament of Baptism, Paragraph 1213

John 3:3-6                   Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.”

Mark 16:16                  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.

As to the necessity of Baptism, the faithful Christian should not need a more compelling argument than that Christ himself told us it was necessary for our salvation. Christ, then, is telling all those who wish to follow Him that not only that it is necessary for  salvation but that through it the one baptized is reborn, and that without this rebirth it would be impossible for any man or woman to see the kingdom of God.  Furthermore, it must be a baptism consisting both of water and of the Holy Spirit.

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."6  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."7- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part II. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Chapter One: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Article I: The Sacrament of Baptism, I. What is this Sacrament Called, Paragraph 1214 and 1215

Matthew 3:16              After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.
                                   
Mark 1:9                      It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.

John 3:22-23               After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing. John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized.

Acts 8:36-38               As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?” Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him.

Acts 10:47                   Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?

Water is a necessary part of the act of baptism. Christ, again, is the only source of proof a faithful Christian should need to accept this as fact. It is in water that Christ was baptized, and it was with water that He baptized. The water brings death of the old, washing away what had been much as the floodwaters in Noah’s time washed away the evil that was permeating the land.  The water brings life, just as a newborn is formed in water and enters the world through that water.

Romans 6:3-4              Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

Romans 6:6                 We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.

The Church has seen in Noah's ark a prefiguring of salvation by Baptism, for by it "a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water":14 - Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part II. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Chapter One: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Article I: The Sacrament of Baptism, II. Baptism in the Economy of Salvation, Paragraph 1218

These waters, however, are perfected waters which cleanse perfectly because they are imbued with the Holy Spirit.  The floodwaters of Noah did not cleanse perfectly for sin still existed in the world afterward, but the waters of baptism leave no taint of sin behind them.  During the immersion in the waters of baptism all that came before, and all that the Christian was due to inherit before it, dies.  That inheritance, passed to every human being from Adam and Eve, was separation from God and a loss of eternal life.  That inheritance was sin and the wages of sin. That inheritance was death.

If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the cross. By this symbolism Baptism signifies communion with Christ's death. - Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part II. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Chapter One: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Article I: The Sacrament of Baptism, II. Baptism in the Economy of Salvation, Paragraph 1219


1 Corinthians 12:12-13           As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12: 27                Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.

Emerging from the waters of baptism, the newly baptized Christian is reborn and reformed.  The waters of baptism bring not just new life but eternal life because through those waters the Holy Spirit joins the baptized to Christ in a permanent union changing the very nature of the baptized Christian from purely human to purely Christ. Before baptism, that Christian was an individual who was set apart and alone.  Now that Christian is a member of a whole and unified body, a body which moves where God wills it to move and loves as God loves because now that Christian is a member of the Body of Christ.  As a member of that Sacred Body, that Christian gains new parents and with those new parents gains a new inheritance and new brothers and sisters with which to share that inheritance.  That Christian also has a new set of rules which must dictate the life he will lead and a new set of standards for what is good.

Romans 8:14                           For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

Galatians 4:4-7                        But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As poof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Galatians 4:31                         Therefore, brothers, we are children not of the slave woman but of the freeborn woman.

Just as Christ has God for His father, so those who are baptized also have God for a Father.  Just as Christ has Mary for His mother, so those who are baptized also have Mary for their mother.  Mary was freeborn, never enslaved to sin, saved by grace of the Holy Spirit from the stain of Original Sin at the moment of her conception though she was born through completely ordinary means of completely ordinary, though pious, parents. She became the first Christian, the first to spread the Good News of the Savior. She was the first to receive the Holy Spirit. She is the perfect example of a life lived in Christ, and is set as a sign for all of how to faithfully live these baptismal promises.

John 11:21-26                         Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Romans 6: 9                            We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.

1 Corinthians 15:22                 For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life

1 Corinthians 15: 29                Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having themselves baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?

1 Corinthians 15:36-38           You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as He chooses and to each of the seeds its own body.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44           So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible, it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak, it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.

Revelation 6: 9-10                   When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, “How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgement and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”

Because all Christians, both the first and the last, are members of the body of Christ, death holds no power over any Christian.  It is the assurance of the Christian that death is not the end of life but the beginning.  Just as a seed must be buried in order to bring forth the plant that lies within it, so the human body must be buried in order to bring forth the spiritual plant that lies within.  While in human bodies, the human being faces trials and temptations, suffering and sorrow. Casting aside the human body, the spiritual being who has been united to Christ’s own body and dies in this union faces no sorrows, no suffering, no trials, and no temptations but all joy and goodness eternally. Since Christ lives eternally, so too does the Christian who remains united to Him. Only the body is cast off, never the soul.  If this were not the case, if the soul were lost as well as the body, then neither Lazarus nor Tabitha could have been restored to life for it is the soul that animates and gives life, coming as it does from the very breath of God himself.

Luke 18:15-16             People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this they rebuked them.  Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Acts 2:38-39               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 will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”

Acts 11: 13-14            He related to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, “Send                                            someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter, who will speak words to                                    you by which you and all your household will be saved.”

Acts 16:33                   He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once.

1 Corinthians 1:16       I baptized the household of Stephanas also; beyond that I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.

Colossians 2:11           In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

The Covenant of the Old Testament was sealed with circumcision, and the Covenant of the New Testament is sealed with baptism. The Old Testament circumcision was done on the 8th day of life and marked the one being circumcised as belonging to God, but did not grant eternal life nor did it give the one circumcised an inheritance except of those promises made to Israel.   In contrast, baptism comes with the promise of eternal life and the promise of being made a child of God, united to Christ, and an inheritance of the Kingdom of God.

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.51 - Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part II. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Chapter One: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Article I: The Sacrament of Baptism, IV. Who Can Receive Baptism, Paragraph 1250

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,"64 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. - Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part II. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Chapter One: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Article I: The Sacrament of Baptism, VI. The Necessity of Baptism, Paragraph 1261

Baptism is necessary even for the newborn in order to remove the stain of Original Sin, inherited by all human beings from Adam and Eve. To deny baptism to the infant or young child is to hinder them on their path to Christ, and thus to defy Christ’s own requests.  Human life is frail and fragile, and youth has no more guarantee of tomorrow than age does.  To deny baptism to the infant or the young child is to deny them union with Christ, and thus to deny them their inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven. It may be that God in His infinite mercy offers them the choice to be baptized if they die before their parents have baptized them, but it would be the grossest presumption to assume so when He has clearly provided the means of providing this protection during life. 

The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. - Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part II. The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Section Two: The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Chapter One: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation, Article I: The Sacrament of Baptism, VI. The Necessity of Baptism, Paragraph 1258

The Church does recognize two additional types of Baptisms, though these are strictly the workings of the mercy of God and should not be relied upon as a primary vehicle of salvation: Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood.  The Baptism of Desire consists of one who desired the Sacrament of Baptism but, through no fault of his or her own was prohibited from receiving it before death.  This includes RCIA candidates, who were preparing to receive the sacraments but die prior to having received them.  The Baptism of Blood consists of those who die for the sake of the faith, though they did not receive the sacrament. 


To summarize, this is the purpose of Baptism: To remove the stain of Original and personal Sin without which it would be impossible to unite the Christian to the Body of Christ and, by uniting the Christian to the Body of Christ, to grant eternal life and a share in the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the necessity of Baptism: Without it, no one may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

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