Many Christians often criticize the Catholic Church’s practice of baptizing infants. According to them, baptism is for adults and older children, because it is to be administered only after one has undergone a “born again” experience— that is, after one has “accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.” At the instant of acceptance, when he is “born again,” the adult becomes a Christian and his salvation is assured forever. Baptism follows, though it has no actual salvific value. In fact, one who dies before being baptized but after “being saved” goes to heaven anyway. As they see it, baptism is not a sacrament (in the true sense of the word), but an ordinance. It does not in any way convey the grace it symbolizes; rather, it is merely a public manifestation of the person’s conversion. Since only an adult or older child can be converted, baptism is inappropriate for infants or for children who have not yet reached the age of reason (generally considered to be about age seven).
Most of these Christians say that during the years before they reach the age of reason infants and young children are automatically saved. Only after a person reaches the age of reason does he need to “accept Jesus” in order to reach heaven. Since the New Testament era, the Catholic Church has always understood baptism differently, teaching that it is a sacrament that accomplishes several things, the first of which is the remission of sin— both original sin and actual sin (only original sin in the case of infants and young children, since they are incapable of actual sin, and both original and actual sin in the case of older persons).
Peter explained what happens at baptism when he said, “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” (Acts 2: 38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, “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” (2: 39). We also read: “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22: 16). These commands are universal, not restricted to adults. Further, these commands make clear the necessary connection between baptism and salvation, a connection explicitly stated in 1 Peter 3: 21: “Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Answers, Catholic (2012-10-22). The Essential Catholic Survival Guide (Kindle Locations 1832-1851). Catholic Answers. Kindle Edition.
In Place of Circumcision
Furthermore, Paul notes that baptism has replaced circumcision (cf. Col. 2: 11– 12). In that passage, he refers to baptism as “the circumcision of Christ” and “the circumcision made without hands.” Of course, usually only infants were circumcised under the Old Law; circumcision of adults was rare, since there were few converts to Judaism. If Paul meant to exclude infants, he would not have chosen circumcision as a parallel for baptism. This comparison between who could receive baptism and circumcision is an appropriate one. In the Old Testament, if a man wanted to become a Jew, he had to believe in the God of Israel and be circumcised.
In the New Testament, if one wants to become a Christian, one must believe in God and Jesus and be baptized. In the Old Testament, those born into Jewish households could be circumcised in anticipation of the Jewish faith in which they would be raised. Thus in the New Testament, those born in Christian households can be baptized in anticipation of the Christian faith in which they will be raised. The pattern is the same: If one is an adult, one must have faith before receiving the rite of membership; if one is a child too young to have faith, one may be given the rite of membership in the knowledge that one will be raised in the faith. This is the basis of Paul’s reference to baptism as “the circumcision of Christ”— that is, the Christian equivalent of circumcision.
Answers, Catholic (2012-10-22). The Essential Catholic Survival Guide (Kindle Locations 1870-1881). Catholic Answers. Kindle Edition.
Catholics from the First
The present Catholic attitude accords perfectly with early Christian practices. Origen, for instance, wrote in the third century that “according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants” (Homilies on Leviticus, 8: 3: 11 [A.D. 244]). The Council of Carthage, in 253, condemned the opinion that baptism should be withheld from infants until the eighth day after birth. Later, Augustine taught, “The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned . . . nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10: 23: 39 [A.D. 408]).
No Cry of “Invention!”
None of the Fathers or councils of the Church were claiming that the practice was contrary to Scripture or Tradition. They agreed that the practice of baptizing infants was the customary and appropriate practice since the days of the early Church. The only uncertainty seemed to be when— exactly— an infant should be baptized. Further evidence that infant baptism was the accepted practice in the early Church is the fact that if infant baptism had been opposed to the religious practices of the first believers, why do we have no record of early Christian writers condemning it?
But some Christians try to ignore the historical writings from the early Church, which clearly indicate the legitimacy of infant baptism. They attempt to sidestep appeals to history by saying that baptism requires faith and, since children are incapable of having faith, they cannot be baptized. It is true that Christ prescribed instruction and actual faith for adult converts (cf. Matt. 28: 19– 20), but his general law on the necessity of baptism (cf. John 3: 5) puts no restriction on the subjects of baptism. Although infants are included in the law he establishes, requirements of that law that are impossible to meet because of their age are not applicable to them.
They cannot be expected to be instructed and have faith when they are incapable of receiving instruction or manifesting faith. The same was true of circumcision: Faith in the Lord was necessary for an adult convert to receive it, but it was not necessary for the children of believers. Furthermore, the Bible never says, “Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation except for infants”; it simply says, “Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation.” Yet these particular protestants must admit there is an exception for infants unless they wish to condemn instantaneously all infants to hell.
Therefore, this particular protestant himself makes an exception for infants regarding the necessity of faith for salvation. He can thus scarcely criticize the Catholic for making the exact same exception for baptism, especially if, as Catholics believe, baptism is an instrument of salvation. It becomes apparent, then, that this protestant position on infant baptism is not really a consequence of the Bible’s strictures but of the demands of his idea of salvation. In reality, the Bible indicates that infants are to be baptized, that they too are meant to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Further, the witness of the earliest Christian practices and writings must once and for all silence those who criticize the Catholic Church’s teaching on infant baptism. The Catholic Church is merely continuing the tradition established by the first Christians, who heeded the words of Christ: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18: 16).
Answers, Catholic (2012-10-22). The Essential Catholic Survival Guide (Kindle Locations 1902-1923). Catholic Answers. Kindle Edition.
Here are some quotes from the Early Leaders of the Church taken from catholic.com:
Thus, like circumcision, baptism can be given to children as well as adults. The difference is that circumcision was powerless to save (Gal. 5:6, 6:15), but “Baptism . . . now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).
Knowing all this, the Church Fathers taught the practice of infant baptism and declared it to be of apostolic origin. In fact, a council held in the 250s discussed whether an infant should be baptized on the eighth day after birth (see quotation from Cyprian, below). This would be discussed only if one recognized baptism as the Christian equivalent of circumcision, which was given on the eighth day after birth (Lev. 12:2–3). It is especially informative to realize that the Fathers who were raised in Christian homes, such as Irenaeus, were almost certainly baptized as children themselves, else they would not be declaring the practice to be of apostolic institution, but as a new invention. Thus when Irenaeus in one place states that regeneration happens in baptism and in another place that Jesus came so even infants could be regenerated (see below), he has in mind regenerating infants by baptism.
“‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]” (Fragment 34 [A.D. 190]).
“He [Jesus] came to save all through himself—all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age” (Against Heresies2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).
“Every soul that is born into 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 were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous” (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]).
“The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine sacraments, knew there is in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit” (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).
“As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born” (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).
“If, in the case of the worst sinners and those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death from his first being born.
For this very reason does he [an infant] approach more easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of another” (ibid., 64:5).
“Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal [of baptism] because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!” (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388]).
“‘Well enough,’ some will say, ‘for those who ask for baptism, but what do you have to say about those who are still children and aware neither of loss nor of grace? Shall we baptize them too?’ Certainly [I respond], if there is any pressing danger. Better that they be sanctified unaware than that they depart unsealed and uninitiated” (ibid., 40:28).
For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members” (Baptismal Catechesis in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]).
“The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]). “Cyprian was not issuing a new decree but was keeping to the most solid belief of the Church in order to correct some who thought that infants ought not to be baptized before the eighth day after their birth. . . . He agreed with certain of his fellow bishops that a child is able to be duly baptized as soon as he is born” (Letters 166:8:23 [A.D. 412]).
For more visit: https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/infant-baptism-0