Infant baptism: a sham ordinance?

LDS author Chris of Splendid Sun works in an infant intensive care unit, and wonders about the practice of baptizing infants. According to LDS scripture, the practice is wrong, and anyone who believes in it “denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption” (Moroni 8:20). Knowing that in emergencies, even the unbaptized can administer valid baptisms, Chris wonders whether he would be able to do it.

Personally, the practice is repulsive to me and I could not in good faith perform such a sham ordinance. On the other hand, it is a source of comfort to those families suffering such a great loss, so how could I deny them?

I brought it up to some of my family members during a reunion and was surprised by the answers I got. I though everyone would unanimously condemn the practice and under no circumstances perform it. However, a number of people actually said they would do it if they were in that same situation. So I ask, is there a valid argument for performing infant baptisms?

It may not mean much coming from a Catholic, but I think there is certainly a valid argument.

First, it seems well to point out what is not Catholic belief about original sin and infant baptism. Catholicism does not teach that babies or anyone else carry the guilt for the sin of Adam and Eve. The only person ever to bear guilt for another’s sins was Jesus Christ, and He did so voluntarily. Neither, of course, do we believe that infants have any personal sins to be remitted. We do believe in an age of reason, but it’s not fixed at eight; it varies from child to child.

What do we believe about original sin and infant baptism? We believe that the entire human race, past, present, and future, is linked together; we’re one family, children of God the Father. We believe that our first parents were representatives for us all in the first trial. When they sinned, the family unity was broken; the human race as a whole was cut off from the Father. Humans lost the indwelling of the Spirit of God in them – they lost grace, the supernatural life dwelling in the natural. They could no longer attain eternal life (even if they could, in their sinful state they would be unable to enjoy it). Their unity with each other was also broken. Shame entered the scene, as did lust, murder, and every interpersonal sin. Their unity with nature was broken as well. Work, childbirth, etc. became crushing and painful. Bodies began to decay and die. Finally, man’s unity with himself was broken. Each human has a darkened intellect, weakened will, and disordered passions (collectively, this is known as “concupiscence” – the tendency toward sin, though it is not sinful for a person to suffer from it).

What does all this have to do with infants? As I said, all humanity is part of one whole, and all of these effects are given from parent to child. This condition is called “the stain of original sin.” Infants can be seen to have it; they are mortal, and as they grow and gain reason, they tend toward sin and suffer from concupiscence. Of course, the worst effect is the one that’s not immediately sensible: the loss of God’s life in the soul, and the possibility of eternal life.
This is why we baptize infants. They were born into this fallen state, and so they need to be reborn of water and the Spirit to be restored to God. Of course, baptism doesn’t reverse the effects for infants (or adults) any more than baptized LDS become immortal and so on. The primary effect of this visible sign (the cleansing with water) is the invisible reality of God’s life being restored to the soul. The baptized person will still have to struggle with mortality, concupiscence, and temptation, but the difference is that he now has God’s life in him.

But why baptize infants when they don’t even know what’s going on? Well, they will certainly have to choose at some point whether to love God and do all that life in Him entails. But it is no foreign or unnatural idea that they can be reborn into Him without full knowledge and consent. After all, they were not asked whether they consented to their first birth (and I realize that LDS believe that they were, but this was before they were infants). Moreover, neither were Hebrew baby boys asked whether they consented to circumcision (and I daresay if they had been, the covenant people would have been much smaller in number). Nevertheless, they were circumcised, and this is what brought them into the people of God. Just so, the sign of circumcision has given way to the sacrament (i.e., a visible sign which effects an invisible reality) of baptism. Infants are baptized, bringing them into the people of God.

Now, one last point to address doubts the reader may have had. First, it is not absolutely necessary that children, or anyone, be baptized in order to have eternal life. God has promised to grant His life to those who are baptized, but He has never said He would not do so in any other case. He is generous, merciful, and loving. He can live in whomever is ready for Him and give them the same effects as baptism, whether they’re a day old or seventy years old, and have never heard the name of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 1257-1261) says:

Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

This is certainly not to undermine baptism’s importance, as the Catechism makes clear in par. 1257. But while we can know for sure who has been reborn in Christ, we cannot know for sure who has not.

I hope I haven’t rambled too much in presenting this, and I hope I’ve presented a thought-provoking case (at least, better than “because the Pope sez so!”).

3 Responses to “Infant baptism: a sham ordinance?”

  1. Ronan says:

    It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

    That is a comforting and sensible teaching.

  2. Mark Butler says:

    That is a very enlightened view of “original sin” – I suspected as much from what I read of Aquinas on the subject, and I am glad that perspective has prevailed.

  3. Carlos Espejel says:

    You are one funny individual. May I ask what your educational background is?