"'He who believes and is baptized shall be saved (St. Mark 16, 16).Only people, therefore, who have faith can be baptized. So why baptize infants?"
Scripture | The Church Fathers
What is baptism ?
St. Paul - baptism replaces the Jewish rite of circumcision (Col. 2,11-12) which was given to infants and made them "religiously" clean and a member of God's Chosen Race.
With the coming of the Christianity, infants were to be accorded a similar and even greater spiritual privilege - makes us Children of God and hence Christians. Any person who has not been baptized can be a candidate to receive it.
Baptism is effected by either immersing the candidate fully; sprinkling with water, while reciting the following words: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (St. Matt. 28,19).
In normal circumstances, Baptism is administered solemnly by one in Holy Orders;
In cases of necessity, Baptism may be conferred privately by any person who has attained the age of reason. Necessity arises where there is immediate danger of death or where there is a shortage of ordained ministers such as in missionary countries.
Baptism repairs the damage done to our souls by Original Sin. What is this damage?
i) The loss of sanctifying grace; ii) Privation of the supernatural destiny God willed for humanity, that is, heaven; iii) concupiscence, or the rebellion of the lower appetites against reason and will.
i) Man was also expelled from the Garden of Eden; ii) Subjection tosickness, suffering and death; iii) Pain and sorrow in childbirth, togetherwith subjection to the lust of men, were to be the special lot of women;iv) The natural elements, plants and animals, were no longer subject toman, and a curse came upon the earth, hence, the necessity for sweat andhard labor (Gen. 3, 16-24).1
Original Sin did not result in:
i) Total depravity (incapacity to perform any good acts); ii) Bondedwill, as Luther and Calvin mistakenly believed. Rather, our natural powerswere "wounded" - ignorance in the intellect; malice in the will; concupiscencein the concupiscible appetite; and debility in the irascible appetite.
Catholics, assert that Baptism is an obligatory sacrament institutedby Christ which in itself makes us born-again: "Amen, amen I say tothee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannotenter into the Kingdom of God" (St. John 3, 5); "Going, therefore,teach ye all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of theSon and of the Holy Spirit" (St. Matt. 28, 19). Christ, therefore,both established the Rite and outlined how it was to be administered.
Further, baptism bestows the following into the soul of the recipient:-Baptismal Character; -Sanctifying grace; -The seven gifts of the HolySpirit (wisdom, understanding, piety, fear of the Lord, counsel, prudence,fortitude); -The infused theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity;-The infused moral virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance;-As well as the uncreated grace of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity:"If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him,and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him" (St. John 14,23); -A right to actual graces to assist him in carrying out his baptismalpromises.
Sacred Scripture throughout conceives the forgiveness of sins as a realand thorough removal: "blot out" (Ps. 50, 3); "clears away" (Ps. 102, 12);"takes away" (St. John 1, 29); "inner renewal" (Eph. 4, 33); "real sanctification"(1 Cor. 6, 11).
Consequent upon infusion of grace, all sin, original and actual, is forgiven, and all temporal punishment due to sin is remitted.
Without this infusion of grace the soul cannot be in a fit state to behold the Beatific Vision upon death. Baptism has all these effects irrespective of the age of the candidate. Difference between Ex Opere Operanto; Ex Opere Operantis.
On this basis, Catholics see no reason to withhold the wonderful effects of Baptism from infants until they reach the age of reason. By baptising infants, the Catholic Church frees them as soon as possible from the dominion of Satan and admits them into the company of children of God: "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the Kingdom of heaven is for such" (St. Matt. 19, 14). Baptism of children is legitimate because they have Original Sin which is remitted by the Rite, they have no impediment of actual sin (Obex) to inhibit the infusion of sanctifying grace, they receive the imprint of the character, and the required faith is supplied by the Church through sponsors or God-parents.
Just as children were once circumcised as infants, they are now baptized as infants because the Kingdom of God, which is entered into through Baptism, most certainly includes them:
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
Further, nowhere is it stated in Sacred Scripture that Baptism be administered only to adults !. Further if a child is hungry it is fed food even though it (the Child) does not know what it is eating and nor does it have an understanding of the labour involved in obtaining the food, yet we see that it is only to the benefit of that Child. How much more beneficial is baptism then?
Children who have not been baptized and who have not committed any actual sin shut out from heaven, but participate in the real, though only natural, happiness of Limbo.
With the enormous growth of the Church after Pentecost, large numbers of adult Jews and Pagans were being converted (Acts 2, 41). Obviously, these new Christians first had to believe in Jesus Christ before being baptized. However, in the case of some of these adults their entire families were baptized with them. Most probably, some of these families would have had infant children:
(The family of Cornelius and all the persons present in his house during St. Peter's visit) "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit, as well as we?" (Acts 10,47);
"And a certain woman named Lydia...did hear: whose heart the Lord opened to attend to those things which were said by Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us..." (Acts 16,14);
"And he (the jailer), taking them the same hour of the night, washed their stripes, and himself was baptized, and all his house immediately" Acts 16, 33);
"I baptized also the household of Stephanus" (1 Cor. 1,16).
As for the claim that Jesus Christ was baptized only when He was an adult, it should be realized that Our Lord did not receive Christian baptism, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the baptism of St. John, which was symbolic washing only and did not infuse grace.
It is entirely false that infant baptism was only late in the Church's history. It is true, however, that after three centuries of evangelization, generations were now Christian by family tradition and this, therefore, led to a decrease in the rate of adult catechumens and baptisms.
The Church Fathers Speak
St. Hippolytus of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition (C. 215 A.D.):"Baptize first the children; and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them."
Origen, Homilies on Leviticus (Post 244 A.D.): "...According to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given even to infants. And indeed if there were nothing in infants which required a remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of Baptism would seem superfluous."
St. Augustine of Hippo (+430 A.D.)2 : "The Church has always baptized children. She received this tradition from our forefathers' faith and she will keep it until the end of time. Infant baptism is a practice which is in harmony with the very firm and ancient Faith of the Church."
St. Cyprian " But if anything could hinder men from obtaining grace, their more heinous sins might rather hinder those who are mature and grown up and older. But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted--and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace--how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam." - A letter to Fidus, On infant Baptism