One of the things other religions often criticize Catholics for is the practice of baptizing babies. According to other Christian denominations, adults and older children must first accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior before they can be baptized. So why do Catholics still do such a practice?
Catholics baptize babies to free them of original sin, which is necessary for their salvation. It’s also through baptism that they can officially be members of the Church and become children of God. Moreover, this opens the doors to all the other sacraments, allowing them to receive the grace of God.
Now, what does baptism mean to Catholics that makes it so important? Find it out below. Let’s also discuss where in the Bible does it say that babies should be baptized.
Why is Baptism So Important for a Catholic?
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1213), baptism is referred to as the “basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, 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.”
From here, you can see that baptism is especially important to the Catholic Church. Firstly, it is described as the “basis of the whole Christian life” and the “gateway to life in the Spirit” because it’s the first step in becoming a member of the church. In fact, it’s one of the three sacraments of Christian initiation, along with confirmation and the holy Eucharist. And to be able to receive salvation and the graces of God, one must be part of Jesus Christ’s body – the church.
Secondly, baptism opens the “door which gives access to the other sacraments”. Without it, a person may not receive the other sacraments. Why does this matter? Well, because it is through the sacraments that God communicates his graces to us. So every time we receive or celebrate a sacrament, we receive more graces from Him.
Finally, it is through baptism that we are regenerated or reborn. As Catholics, we are taught that we inherit the original sin of our first parents: Adam and Eve. Because of that, we are destined for eternal punishment. But since God loves us so much, he offers a way – baptism – to save us from our fallen state by washing away our sins.
Where in the Bible Does it Say to Baptize Babies?
The Catholic Church has long baptized people, following Jesus’ command to His apostles where he said: “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)
Now, as Catholics, we believe that baptism can take away our sins. This is taught to us by the Bible, which states: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16). You’ll also find in Acts 2:38 how Peter explains what happens at baptism by saying: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
That said, we know that baptism brings about salvation. At the same time, we also know that babies inherit original sin from the moment they are born. This can be seen in Psalm 51:5, which says: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” and in John 9:34 which states: “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.” So for their salvation and for the original sin to be cleansed away, babies need to be baptized, too. This way, they can become children of God and receive the Holy Spirit’s graces.
Now, Jesus does not restrict all these scriptures and teachings to adults alone. In fact, in Acts 2:39, He specifically mentioned children, telling us that baptism also applies to them. “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Furthermore, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to children as well. You can find this in Matthew 18: 3-4 where Christ says: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
This is also in Mark 10:13-14, where it says: “And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God…” The same event can be seen in Luke 18:15-17 and Matthew 18:2-4.
All of these teachings show that baptism is necessary for salvation. So by denying babies baptism, you are denying them salvation and the graces of becoming children of God.
Baptism of Babies in the Early Church
The practice of baptizing babies has been around since even the time of the apostles. The conversion of Lydia, which was described in Acts 16:15, says: “And when she was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.”
To reiterate, Lydia was baptized “with her household”. This refers to everyone in the family, including babies and children. More verses in the Book of Acts talk about baptizing whole households such as in Acts 10:48 and Acts 11:14. Acts 16:33 also describes a Philippian jailer and his family, stating: “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family.”
Steph’anas and his household were mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:16, too, which says: “I did baptize also the household of Steph’anas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.” In all of these situations, there wasn’t any case of excluding babies and children from household baptisms.
Further proving that the practice of baptizing babies can be traced as far back as the 2nd century, the Apostolic Tradition written by Hippolytus in approximately A.D 215 states: “The children shall be baptized first. All of 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.”